On its excellent debut recording, the Howard Fishman Quartet creates an infectious blend of early jazz and blues, western swing, and vintage folk, steered by Fishman's propulsive rhythm guitar and droll vocal style. Together with Russell Farhang on violin, Peter Ecklund on cornet, and Jason Sypher on upright bass, Fishman creates a vibrant paradox: a new, eclectic sound inspired by some of the oldest American music there is. There's a healthy amount of improvisation, especially on the instrumental numbers "Limehouse Blues" and "Gypsy Waltz." (Farhang's cadenza on the latter is a highlight.) But Fishman never strays far from the aesthetics of songwriting. He contributes two originals with "Good Times," a fast minor-key romp that strongly recalls the Hot Club sound of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli, and "Best Days," a mournful country-folk ballad. He also crafts new arrangments of traditional songs that go back to the '20s, such as "St. James Infirmary," "Took My Gal A-Walkin'," and "New Louisville Burglar."
Fishman's voice is especially poignant on the three old standards, "When I Grow Too Old to Dream," "World on a String," and "I'm Always Chasing Rainbows." He's more gruff on "Blue Yodel Stomp," a tune by early country pioneer Jimmie Rodgers, one of Fishman's major influences. This closing song was recorded live and is much more raw than the others; cornetist Jon-Erik Kelso replaces Ecklund. Henry Bogdan, formerly of Helmet, plays a wonderful Hawaiian steel guitar part on "The One Rose," a tune also associated with Jimmie Rodgers.
Although Fishman's group was still a work in progress at the time of this recording, the defining elements were very much in place.