The stage at Spivey Hall shows off plenty of refined string ensembles, but the Hot Club of Cowtown is a different kettle of fiddle.
When the Austin, Texas, trio arrives in Morrow, expect gypsy jazz rave-ups, country hoe-downs and two-step Western swing worthy of Bob Wills.
It’s the Hot Club’s Spivey debut, and violinist-vocalist Elana James, informed that her band’s show will be sandwiched between a chamber orchestra and a concert pianist, inquired about the dress code.
“I’ve been wearing my cowboy boots at most of the gigs,” James said. “I might have to put on a cocktail dress.”
Not to worry. James and her bandmates — Whit Smith on archtop guitar and vocals and Jake Erwin on slap bass and vocals — will look and sound sharp, as you can tell by checking out some their videos on YouTube.
They have a vintage resonance that appropriately calls to mind the happy, light-footed swing of guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli, founders of the Cowtown’s 1930s antecedent, the Quintette du Hot Club de France.
But, make no mistake, this modern offspring is as American as armadillo pie, and, unlike its European namesake, gets considerably more mud on its musical tires.
The band has been together since 1998, with a brief hiatus 10 years ago, during which time James toured with Bob Dylan’s band, one of the first female instrumentalists in Dylan’s group since Scarlet Rivera tore up “Hurricane” in the 1970s.
That experience demonstrated a truism: Virtuosity isn’t always its own reward. “A lot of times, virtuosity is the last thing you need to get a song across,” James said.
And there you have one of the strengths of the Hot Club of Cowtown. All three players are prodigiously gifted, but all three leash their abilities to the moment and the tune. They soar through the twisty “Slow Boat to China” but seem the most at home in the two-chord “Ida Red.”
Their 2013 album “Rendezvous in Rhythm” is devoted to the band’s jazz side, with such gypsy numbers as “Dark Eyes” and “Avalon.” Their previous recording, “What Makes Bob Holler,” is 100 percent Western swing, featuring tunes made famous by Bob Wills.
It’s clear that they are fans of Texas dance-hall music, and not simply commentators. “I don’t like it when people interpret the band as being winkingly sly,” James said. “We are utterly unironic.”
She continued: “There is something about this music, particularly the early standards, Western swing, American folk music: It’s in the arteries of American culture. It’s the blood of American culture.”
James grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas. Her mother was a professional violinist, and she began playing the instrument at age 4, studying the Suzuki method. Smith is from the Connecticut suburbs by way of Cape Cod and Erwin is from Tulsa, Okla.
Their long association has helped them develop a certain band telepathy. “What’s so awesome is we’ve played together so long, we can fly across the world, set up, and kill,” James said. “Collective muscle memory is a very special thing — like that cliché, ‘It takes a long time to grow an old friend.’”
Augmented with original songs, bluegrass numbers (like the James showpiece “Orange Blossom Special”) and folk tunes, their repertoire is deep.
“For the die-hard fans who see us year after year — we like to have new things for those people,” James said. “But they really want and need to hear ‘Ida Red.’”
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