published Saturday, June 8th, 2013

Critic's Choice: Get ready to dance when Cowtown revs up

Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.


• What: Hot Club of Cowtown

• When: 7:30-9:30 p.m. tonight.

• Where: Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union Stage.

• Admission: Riverbend pin $26 day pass.

It’s good that there’s a largish, empty space fronting the Tennessee Valley Federal Credit Union’s stage, because this gypsy jazz trio is bound to attract a lot of dancers.

Hot Club of Cowtown’s name is derived from Quintette du Hot Club de France, whose ranks included Belgian guitar icon Django Reinhardt and swing fiddle legend Stephane Grappelli. Even though the Cowtown group’s music touches as much on Bob Wills-style Western swing as the Parisian hot jazz that was Reinhardt’s bread and butter, its energetic performances make both name associations more than fitting.

Then again, they’re from Austin, Texas, the home of musical innovators and a hotbed for such quirky stylistic blends.

For an idea of just how tight and in-sync these guys are, listen to “Dark Eyes (Ochi Chornye),” the instrumental opening track to the band’s eighth studio release, “Rendezvous in Rhythm,” which dropped on May 13. Over the course of just a few minutes, violinist Elana James, guitarist Whit Smith and bassist Jake Erwin accelerate from a breezy playfulness into whirlwind ferocity without missing a beat.

That unabashed energy and virtuosity extends throughout their catalog, which includes some swinging, clever covers of country and bluegrass standards such as “Cotton-Eyed Joe” and “Ragtime Annie.”

This isn’t just an instrumental group, however, and their pipes — all three serve vocal double duty — have a cool, smoky quality that sounds like it drifted out the nostalgia-tinted windows of a Parisian nightclub, circa 1930.

Hot Club has played all over the world, receiving rave reviews by media outlets from Sydney, Australia, to London and, while they could easily have played one of Riverbend’s bigger stages, hearing them in such an intimate setting is going to be a real treat. If you missed them when they headlined Nightfall three years ago, don’t make the same mistake twice.

Contact staff writer Casey Phillips at or 423-757-6205. Follow him on Twitter at @PhillipsCTFP.

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Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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