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Elana James

Black Beauty – 2015 (Snarf)

Reviewed by Henry L. Carrigan Jr.

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CDs by Elana James

In 2007, Elana James released an acclaimed self-titled album. The singer, songwriter, and violinist - best known for her work with the Western swing/hot jazz trio Hot Club of Cowtown - strikes gold again with her new album. The disc is a collection of five new originals and several songs she has always loved from Bob Dylan (Hot Club opened for him on his 2006 North American minor league baseball stadium tour), Robert Hunter and Woody Guthrie.

James demonstrates her musical depth and breadth, moving far beyond the strains of Western Swing to explore other styles. Backed by Joe Kerr's lounge piano, James turns up the smoke on the sultry torch song, "All I Need is You." Listening to the reel "Eva's Dance," one of two original instrumentals, carries us back to the barn dances of early America; Erik Hokkanen's romping rhythm and lead guitar race along with James' violin, bobbing and weaving into a can't-sit-still-get-up-on-the-dance-floor tune. James' poignant balladry on "Hey Beautiful" in U.S. Staff Sgt. Juan Campos' (1979-2007) final letter home from Iraq captures the letter's longing for home as well as Campos' friendship with his fellow soldiers and his deep love for his wife. Cindy Cashdollar's gorgeous Dobro weaves under and around James's violin in "Waltz of the Animals," the second original instrumental. Almost a lullaby, this gorgeous song captures the beauty and grace of the stately animals who are its subject. James' haunting version of Hunter and Jerry Garcia's "Ripple" shows even better than the original the beauty of a song that never loses its power to evoke the genuine joy that encourages us to sing along with a paean to a lost time and hope.

James captures in song our persistent longings, whether for a distant time and place, a right relationship with nature, a lost love or that right love still to be found.