A mix of old-world folk, high-stepping Irish jigs and deep country-and-western blues that’s served as populist gospel for everyone from Hank Williams to Bob Dylan to Lucinda Williams is apt to offer some panacea for the soul, if not genuine art. But this is damn fine fun all the same.
Handling both violin and vocal duties, Elana James sounds at times so feral and emboldened on her debut that you can drift into all sorts of daydreams of Bob Wills not being able to make a Playboys date and sending his female understudy in his stead, his presence barely missed at all. And when the band lets rip, lending less emphasis to dust-bowl ballads and more to kicking off dust and having a high time, this tight little ensemble could well be the greatest fiddle band Dodge never had.
James has toured with Dylan, not the most laid-back of bandleaders, but one with an insistence on individual nuance and appropriate improvisation nonetheless, lessons James has now transposed to a more purely C&W idiom. “Goodbye Liza Jane”—a sort of country forerunner (and female counterpart) to Chuck Berry’s “Bye Bye Johnny”—careens with a joy that is impossibly manufactured, birthed from a single moment of inspired spontaneity. Players, doubtless, frequently have a gas making their music, but how truly palpable that is here, with James still mindful not to clip the ends of her words, and each band member seeming just able to resist the urge to throw down instrument and dance.