Katie Glassman & Snapshot,
Dream a Little Dream
(Fiddle Parlor, 2013)

Invented in the 1930s, Western swing fuses a range of rural and urban sounds: oldtime fiddle tunes, folk songs, vintage pop, jazz, country and blues. Though once prominent on the country charts, it had passed its commercial prime by 1950.

It is such a gloriously infectious music, however, that it has never gone entirely extinct. Reissues of recordings by the great bands, those led by Milton Brown, Bob Wills, Bill Boyd, Spade Cooley and others, remain in print. Western swing helped shape the styles of more recent country singers such as Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and the late Ray Price. At least one full-time revival outfit, Asleep at the Wheel (its name derived from the circumstances of Brown's death in a one-car crash), has kept the flame alive for decades.

As with bluegrass, you can't fake Western swing. It's a demanding music for those who would perform it, and there's always the risk of stale imitation. That's not a problem on Dream a Little Dream from Denver-based fiddler Katie Glassman and the three fellow musicians (all young) who comprise Snapshot. Glassman is unmistakably an artist within the tradition -- which is to say hers is hardly a radical reinterpretation of Western swing -- but it manages to feel fresh and new, and it's a joy all through its 11 cuts and 35 minutes.

Glassman wrote three of the cuts and co-wrote one ("Not Stickin' Around," with band member accordionist/pianist Eric Moon). The originals are good enough to stand tall alongside the time-tested likes of the standard "My Window Faces the South," Duke Ellington's "Jubilee Stomp" and the traditional "Rutland's Reel." Glassman's folkish "Good Times Gone By" takes its place among the strongest, most affecting songs I've heard so far in 2014. An additional pleasure is her distinctive vocal, which turns even "I Don't Care If the Sun Don't Shine," ordinarily sheer piffle, into something you want to hear.

Everything is so well executed that it's made to sound easy, always the definition of the hardest test of good music. Put Dream on the player, and dream away.

music review by
Jerome Clark

5 April 2014

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