It's hard to imagine why it's taken the Hot Club of Cowtown so long to record a tribute album to Bob Wills. Their Django-meets-Wills style makes the idea a natural, and when they've covered Wills in the past -- either tunes he wrote or tunes associated with the Texas Playboys -- they've always brought a modern sensibility to the tunes that makes them sound brand new. As a trio, they have to be resourceful to get the kind of full sound Wills got with his ensemble, but they're up to the task. When this album was released in the U.K. in November of 2010, it jumped into the Top Ten and stayed there for weeks. "Big Balls in Cowtown" is a good example of the trio's method. Elana James lays out three impressive fiddle solos and Whit Smith's nimble guitar captures the essence of Eldon Shamblin's Django-esque lines, but finds his own way of making the strings sing. The band rewrites the lyrics using verses from other cowboy tunes, and a few of their own which are in keeping with their suggestive renaming of the song. Smith and James duet on "Time Changes Everything" then Smith drops a solo that brings to mind the electric mandolin work of Tiny Moore. Smith's guitar solo takes "Oklahoma Hills" to Paris, then drops a quote from "Dixie" into his run. James is just as inventive and slips a bit of "The Hawaiian War Chant" into her solo. Bass man Jake Erwin shines on "Stay a Little Longer," his double-time slap bass solo closes the set on a high note.
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AllMusic Review by j. poet