The Hot Club of Cowtown

Texas Platters

Phases and Stages

The Hot Club of Cowtown

Ghost Train (HighTone)

Starting in Austin a handful of years back, this modern western swing trio has steadily and successfully gained performative composure and with it, a wider audience. On Ghost Train, the band -- upright bassist Jake Erwin, guitarist/vocalist Whit Smith, and fiddle player/vocalist Elana Fremerman -- stretch their muscles on this, their fourth album. While still starting at the nexus of Bob Wills and Django Reinhardt, found on their 1998 HighTone debut Swingin' Stampede, here the threesome demonstrates notable depth and maturity by playing more heterogeneously. Half of Ghost Train's 12 tracks, it should be pointed out, were penned by band members, with Fremerman's compositions providing light to Smith's shadow songs. In doing so, HCOC make the transition from fine interpreters to stylistic contributors. Examples include Fremerman's well-penned band roundhouse "Forget-Me-Not," where she sings harmony vox with herself; Erwin's bassability on the standard "Cherokee"; and the gypsy-inflected "Fuli Tschai," where Smith plays with his typical aplomb. The band really nails these takes, thanks in large part to producer and sound facilitator Gurf Morlix. Oh, and let's not forget the covers, including closer, the 1916 Will Skidmore song "Pray for the Lights to Go Out," and Aerosmith's "Chip Away the Stone." Aside from a hopefully forthcoming well-documented live album, there's not much keeping Ghost Train from being Hot Club of Cowtown's best.

***.5

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