Western swing isn’t easy to find these days, the real stuff anyway, and most of it falls heavily on the vintage western side rather than the jazz side, but Tom Hammel rises to the- above the genre. Crazy rhythm of steel is the most jazzy western swing album I’ve heard in a long time.
Played on a steel pedal guitar, “Si Tu Vois Ma Mere” becomes a lovely beach melody and “Tenderly” goes for the same lonely Hawaiian vibe. Several other tracks capture this thoughtful end of things, most notably the closest “Willow Weep For Me”. Other tracks are more upbeat, notably “Crazy Rhythm“, “Mission to Moscow” and “It’s All Your Fault” with a guest voice by Alex Pangman. “Out of Odessa”, a new title written for the album, has some truly remarkable playing moments and some mind-blowing moments.
You can play jazz and swing with any instrumentation, and it’s a jazz album, a small group improvisation, rather than the big band sound of Bob Wills. If the same notes as pedal steel guitar hits were played by a cornet, no one would hesitate to call it jazz. An accordion adds an extra layer to multiple tracks, another instrument with more jazz pedigree than most realize.
The musicians, recorded remotely from across Canada during the pandemic, all impress as they come together to create a sound with depth and layers, many of those layers being Hammel himself playing pedal guitar. , accordion, electric and acoustic guitars and ukulele. Paul Pigat joins on guitar for five of the twelve pieces, Jeremy Holmes is on double bass and James Badger is on drums. In the live version of the band, they add extra hands to play the accordion.
Whether your heart is focused solely on jazz or other roots music, you will find this set to be impressive and enjoyable. With a good balance of tempos and mood, and plenty for a musician to choose from and enjoy.