Texan Wayne Hancock makes swingin', rockin' country music from another time, a superlative confluence of the rivers of honky-tonk, Western swing, rockabilly, and jump blues, a sound that might emanate from a Southwestern oilfield bar circa 1954. Vocally, he evokes a strain of singer that was once (contemptuously or complimentarily) known as "hillbilly" -- think singers like Hank Williams Sr. and Webb Pierce, who possessed an unpolished edge, a yowl as distinctive as the first chilly winds of late autumn.
Hancock favors stripped-down, pre-Nashville Sound instrumentation: a few guitars, acoustic bass, steel guitar, and occasional trombone. He doesn't even bother with drums, and he takes the concept of rhythm guitar seriously. Unlike many of his roots-oriented brethren who lean towards the "billy" side of the equation, there's nothing overly retro about the presentation here. Hancock doesn't go in for heavy-handed affectations as if he lives in a time warp where nothing happened before or after an idealized era or year. Take Swing Time's "Johnny Law," which features some scorching Chuck Berry-style guitar licks. Or try the tasty, heartfelt jazz flourishes on the "hidden" bonus cut, the Gershwin evergreen "Summertime," which not so coincidentally features a sumptuously bluesy duet vocal from guest Rebecca Snow. As good as Hancock's previous albums are, at times they came off a tad embellished or mannered -- here, captured live at Austin's Continental Club, he sounds simultaneously more relaxed, limber, and energized. His band both swings and rocks with irresistible joie de vivre while forgoing any tendencies toward wretched excess. Swing Time has a palpable "late-nite" ambience, distilling that feeling of wandering into a club and catching the band on a particularly good night.