When East Village–conceived, Austin-based swing trio Hot Club of Cowtown broke up in 2004, co-founding fiddler-vocalist Elana Fremerman was soon called by Bob Dylan to be the point person in Cap’n D’s near-nightly assault on his own hallowed repertoire. Emboldened by this experience, Elana has now changed her surname to James (more likely to be spelled right by promoters), scooped up Hot Club guitarist Whit Smith for her own tour, and released her self-titled solo debut. She still sings with a smile, Hot Club–style, but her sharp little teeth are more apparent on Elana James.
Her old band’s albums consisted mostly of covers, to scattered effect, but James wrote six of these 13 tracks, and this set’s a story. The centerpiece is “All the World and I,” in which a chiming guitar briskly times the dreamy drones of bowed fiddle and bass as well as the held notes and images of James’s multitracked vocals. The tension of timing, even in dreams and memories, winds through the hyper-real brightness of “Silver Bells,” a fiddling duet with Western swing great Johnny Gimble, and on to the urban twilight of Ellington and Strayhorn’s “I Don’t Mind”: “I don’t mind the ice and snow/The tears of brine that make love go . . . I’ll take a chance.” Out of the past, but to be continued!