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Harsh and Sweet, Fiery and Cold: '24 Hours a Day'

Elana James plays an appealing blend of bluegrass, western swing and jazz.
Elana James plays an appealing blend of bluegrass, western swing and jazz.

On "24 Hours a Day," amid twangy strings, Elana James bursts into her own particular blend of bluegrass, western swing and jazz. The fiddler has traveled a winding road to get here: She attracted big-time attention with her band Hot Club of Cowtown, but then endured the group's acrimonious breakup. After some confusion and floundering, James fell into two tours with Bob Dylan as the first woman to join his touring band in 30 years. In the end, she found herself and her musical voice — and what a find it is.

Reflecting an infectious combination of verbal wit and instrumental guile, "24 Hours a Day" finds the pyrotechnics falling into easy balance with a gentle nature and a tongue-in-cheek approach, without sacrificing skill. There's no other way to put it: James and her band — pianist Joe Kerr, guitarist Dave Biller and bassist Beau Sample — have serious chops.

James tears through her solos with fire and grace, her timeless voice matching the passion of her playing as she pours her heart into a dismissal of a lover who waited too long: "I'm in love with another / and he's steadfast and true / I'm in love with another man / Now I feel sorry for you." The melodies dance along, almost on their own, the beat and bass walking her heart away from pains of the past. It's harsh and sweet, fiery and cold, and it ends with a bang — much like love itself.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

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Claire Blaustein
Claire Blaustein is a freelance writer and music critic who writes for a variety of publications, including The Washington Post, Exclaim! Magazine and La Scena Musicale. She came to NPR as a Performance Today intern in 2005, and has thus far refused to leave. When not doing any of the above, she writes in her blog, I Dig Music..., and pouts until someone gives her a new CD to play with.