elana

Elana James Inks New Deal, Plays Fuji Rock Fest & Keeps Swingin' For Fences

Photo by Richard Dowdy, 2007- for the Grateful Web

The North Carolina-based music mavens at Redeye will be handling North American distribution of the eponymous solo debut disc by singer, violinist and songwriter Elana James beginning Tuesday, July 24. The move will make the ebullient, eclectic collection of town 'n' country swing available at most major nationwide chains-including Borders as well as in hundreds of discerning, independently-owned stores.

James began enchanting listeners in 1998 as co-leader (with Whit Smith) of the Austin-based Hot Club of Cowtown, a refreshing, nimble-fingered combo that merged the sophisticated, high-stepping sizzle of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli's Quintet of the Hot Club of France with the driving energy of Western swing.

Buoyed by five critically-acclaimed discs and live shows imbued with an almost punk-rock energy, the Hot Club was on the verge of a popular breakthrough when, just after opening all of Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson's ground breaking 2004 summer tour of American minor league ballparks, the group disbanded.

Still reeling from the breakup, the young musician had only begun weighing future options when the two musical godfathers whose very tour ushered the demise of the Hot Club stepped in with offers that could not be refused.

First, veteran producer Fred Foster called James with an invitation to play twin fiddle parts with the legendary Texas Playboy Johnny Gimble on Willie Nelson's next record. Almost immediately after that call came an invitation to play in Dylan's touring band.

"When I got that call," Elana remembers, "It was so incredible - I felt like God had reached down out of heaven and anointed me with a golden wand."

The Dylan slot ended up expanding to two full tours (one as the fiddle player for Dylan himself complete with prominent positioning in the shows), but James experienced a real revelation before the first tour was even complete:  Oddly enough, performing with arguably the greatest, most-revered songwriter of the last 50 years gave her the confidence to pursue a similar path leading her own band.

". . .He's peerless at what he does, and yet he's still doing exactly the same thing as everyone else," she notes. "And it made me realize that if I started my own thing, there's a lot of dignity in just doing it; you don't have to worry about who you're playing for, you don't have to worry about how it's received, you just have to do it."

Elana James began recording her self-titled debut album in 2005, but a second Dylan tour delayed completion of the recording until the summer of 2006, with assorted finishing details further setting back the release.

But by any measure, the elegant Elana James is more than worth the wait, presenting an artist brimming with talent, self-assurance and a strong musical vision that encompasses string-jazz and country roots as well as displaying - through a half-dozen artfully-drawn original tunes, Elana's rare gift for truly integrating lyrical content with melody and tone.

Through it all, James' clearwater, emotionally - transparent vocal delivery is the ideal vehicle for her uniquely personal world view, and her violin playing slips with a natural grace from bold, charismatic leads to empathetic ensemble playing and back again.

The legendary swing fiddler Johnny Gimble illuminates a pair of traditional Western Swing fiddle tunes, pairing his inimitable style with Elana's on his own arrangement of "Silver Bells" and using electric mandolin to spar with James' violin on an immaculate, up-to-date rendition of "Goodbye Liza Jane."

With knowing, soulful nods to Duke Ellington ("I Got It Band (And That Ain't Good)" and "I Don't Mind") and Eubie Blake (a luscious "Memories of You" ), Elana James - with and her fine, hand-picked cohorts - further extends her impressive musical palette and wide-ranging love-and command - of American music.

Willie Nelson lauds James as "a beautiful voice, a fantastic musician with the heart and soul of an angel."  He neglected to mention that she's smart and beautiful, too, but it's a sure bet he noticed.   

(Elana James is currently available through such online outlets as Amazon.com, CDBaby, Miles of Music, etc.).

 

ELANA JAMES AUGUST 2007 TOUR DATES

August 7 Starlight Concert Series, Evanston, IL

August 10 Great Lakes Festival, East Lansing, MI

August 11 Great Lakes Festival, East Lansing, MI

August 12 Great Lakes Festival, East Lansing, MI  

August 15 Continental Club Happy Hour, Austin, TX

August 18 Performing Arts Center Simsbury, CT

August 22 The Continental Club Happy Hour, Austin, TX      

August 29 The Continental Club Happy Hour, Austin, TX

Swing Fiddler/Vocalist Elana James Releases Solo Debut

Elana James- for the Grateful Web

"When one door closes, another opens" might seem little more than a comforting cliché, but don't try telling that to Elana James.  Dealt a nasty surprise little more than two years ago, when the band she'd worked with for close to a decade suddenly dissolved, James was more pleasantly stunned just weeks later by an invitation to join Bob Dylan's band - and what she learned in the course of touring with a legend set her on a new path whose first (but certainly not last) milestone is the February 27th, 2007 release of her solo debut, Elana James (self released on Snarf).

Almost evenly divided between captivating originals and deftly chosen standards, Elana James is a portrait of an artist at the crossroads between where she's been and where she's headed.  Whether she's singing or leading a swinging instrumental with her violin, James is confident and convincing - the legacy of years spent as a member of the acclaimed Hot Club Of Cowtown.  But while the album offers a healthy dose of her own take on the energetic "string jazz" that was the Hot Club's stock in trade, it points in new directions, too, serving up a compelling change of pace with "All The World And I," a haunting folk-flavored song that reveals a hitherto-unknown side of her creativity.  Leavened by favorites like Duke Ellington's "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)," the sprightly western swing anthem "Silver Bells," and a tip of the hat to Dylan ("One More Night"), Elana James marks the arrival of a strong new musical voice.

Even more than her contributions to the Hot Club's repertoire did, the set's original songs display Elana's deep affinity for the musical vocabulary of swing.  Backed by an ensemble that includes both current band members and some of the brightest lights of her adopted home town of Austin's rich musical scene, songs like "Twenty-Four Hours A Day," "Oh, Baby" and "Down The Line" go down smooth, yet swing ferociously from the first note to the last.  There's a nod to the dancers with the classic lines of her "Eva's Waltz," too, while James - with some help from Texas fiddle/mandolin legend Johnny Gimble - brings her own touch to "Goodbye Liza Jane" and "Silver Bells" in instrumental interludes that serve to complement the songs and highlight both James's and the ensemble's virtuosity.  And when it comes to interpreting standards, Elana easily rises to the challenge, whether giving a winsome reading of country music pioneer Carson Robison's "The Little Green Valley" or a sultry take on "I Don't Mind."

elana"One thing I realized when I was playing in Bob Dylan's band was that what we were doing was what everyone is doing, just at a higher level," James says.  "You write some songs, you teach them to people, and then you tour around and play them.  He's had unparalleled success, and he's peerless in what he does, and yet - on the outside, he's still off doing exactly the same thing as everyone else.  That was a revelation to me.  And it made me realize that if I started my own thing, there's a lot of dignity in just doing it; you don't have to worry about who you're playing for, you don't have to worry about how it's received, you just have to do it."

For Elana James, that realization led to a new career - and with the release of Elana James, it's led to a new opportunity for connoisseurs to discover the full extent of a remarkable musician's talent.

Elana James & The Continental Two ~ 2007 Tour Dates

* With Bruce Robison (solo)

3/16 SXSW / Momo's (9 PM) / Austin, TX
3/17 Gruene Hall / New Braunfels, TX

3/21 Maria's Taco Express / Austin, TX

3/23 Club Helsinki / Great Barrington, MA

3/24 United Methodist Church / Middlebury, VT
3/27-29 Rodeo Bar / NYC
3/30 Café Nine / New Haven, CT
3/31 Narrows Center for the Arts / Fall River, MA
4/10 Coffee Gallery / Altadena, CA

4/12 The Mint / Los Angeles, CA
4/13 Acoustic Music San Diego / San Diego, CA

4/14 West Side Theatre / Newman, CA
4/15 Freight & Salvage / Berkeley, CA
4/16 Don Quixote's Intl Music Hall / Felton, CA
4/18 Grass Valley Center for the Arts / Grass Valley, CA
4/19 Palm's Playhouse /  Winters, CA
4/20 Hotel Utah Saloon / San Francisco, CA
5/03 Continental Club / Houston, TX
5/05 Continental Club / Austin, TX
5/06 Gruene Hall / New Braunfels, TX
5/29 Ballard Park / Ridgefield, CT
5/30 Club Passim / Cambridge, MA