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Acoustic Americana Music Guide

One of the shows at Viva Cantina: COW BOP, acclaimed jazz guitarist Bruce Forman's always astonishing brand of classic Western Swing is characterized by a world class mixture of hard bop harmonics and complexity, affectionate respect for the idiom and an exceedingly playful approach that, taken with vocalist Pinto Pammy's expressive, self-assured delivery and the group's superb musicianship, guarantees a thrilling earful

From Jazz Times:

With cover art that is bound to amuse fans of cartoonist Gary Larson, Cow Bop’s third release has a lot going for it even before the band kicks up some dust with the help of four special guest riders: pianist Roger Kellaway, saxophonist Allen Mezquida, trombonist Andy Martin and B3 organist Joe Bagg. Tagging along with guitarist Bruce Forman and his pardners is as much fun as ever.

That’s because the affection Forman holds for Western-swing pioneers, Southwest jazz bands and classic pop vocalists—plus his interest in seminal bop, country and Latin influences—is every bit as evident as his six-string finesse, and he’s surrounded himself with musicians who share his taste and enthusiasms. How else to explain why Kellaway sounds so engaged on an unabashedly romantic “Besame Mucho” and a racing “Alabamy Bound,” and how the horn players and B3 organist add such brilliant luster and soul to this 12-tune collection?

Forman relies heavily on his core band, though, to make a strong case for keeping these sequels coming. Pinto Pammy’s vocals are delightfully evocative, in English or Spanish, and she often brings out the best in Forman when he’s required to combine subtle accompaniments with flowing choruses—on “Comes Love,” for example. Rounding out the group and, yes, often spurring it on, are bassist Alex King, drummer Jake Reed and fiddler Phil Salazar, who sometimes matches wits with the bandleader. For those who relate to Forman’s passions, Too Hick for the Room is simply too good to pass up.
-Mike Joyce, Jazz times, Sept 2011 issue


Here's a rough translation of the German Jazz Podium article:

"He calls it “California Swing”, and anyone who thinks Bruce is lost to jazz is mistaken. Already with “San Antonio Rose”, it starts with a solid punch of Cowshed swingin’ music - and the guitar even quotes Monk? A Tal-Farlow Phrase? Bruce Forman - who succeeded Joe Diorio at the USC Jazz Department and who years before that was a “Top-Bopper” - has created an incredible outcome from his hidden love for C&W. Pinto Pammy sings , Phil fiddles, Alex is on bass, Jake is on drums. “Besame Mucho” - an excellent rendition with “Pinto” kicking in as the best bride of Country music. The great saxophonist Allen Mezquida performs on “Anytime”, Andy Martin, tbn, on “Comes Love”, and Joe Bagg roars away on “Sweet Temptation” - a dreamy blues. For the beginning of the good ol’ “Tennesse Waltz”, Bruce disguised his L5 as Duane Eddy. “El Cumbanchero” is a “finger-crusher”, and on “Alabamy Bound”, the influence of Bruce’s former mentor, Barney K., is unmistakable on Bruce’s amazing solo. Pinto Pammy’s singing is fresh and yet remarkably akin to radio shows from the 30s/40s. The whole thing is perfect. Your feet are guaranteed to love it. These first-class “Hillbillies” will put even hard core jazz musicians in high spirits. Whoever said that the closest distance between jazz and C&W had been reached with Les Paul and Hank Garland, will surely get an eye-opener with this album. (As in - y’all have found an even closer tie between jazz/C&W). Bruce is still himself, and how." (Thank you Kait Dunton for the translation from German!)

This is one of those rare times when it's impossible to hang a label on a band or pigeonhole its type of music. Thanks to the incredible talents of four guys and a gal that make up Cow Bop, the result is the jazziest country sound since Bob Wills. Taking it one step further, there is a gutsy irreverence that makes straying from the original tunes an exciting adventure in every groove.

Western swing, bebop, and flat-out jazz are tossed together with a sassy delivery, breakneck instrumental work, and often sultry vocals that conjure images of big-band days. The 12 tunes are standards that have been worked over by better-known artists through the years, but never have they been wrung out so completely and so freshly.

Bruce Forman leads the way, showing why he is widely known for his prowess as a jazz and bebop guitarist. Pinto Pammy sizzles as she sings, and Phil Salazar's fiddle adds a special kind of heat. Alex King on bass and Jake Reed on drums punctuate the tightness of the quintet.

"San Antonio Rose" opens the 54-minute package much like it has sounded for many years, and then in a few bars evolves into a spicy, jazzy opus. There are several album highlights, including a saucy rendition of "It's a Sin To Tell a Lie" and a raucous take on "Alabamy Bound." Spectacular guitar and fiddle playing make "Chinatown" worth revisiting.

-Ken Rosenbaum, ToledoBlade.com

Lately, Texas-born jazz guitarist Bruce Forman's focus has been on western swing, the hot 1930s hillbilly subgenre initially proposed by Milton Brown and Bob Wills. As leader of Cow Bop (who just released their third album, Too Hick for the Room), Forman, by adopting a traditional dance-band role as opposed to the cerebral realm of bebop adventuring, represents a fascinating dichotomy. Bop cats are notoriously allergic to anything that even faintly resembles entertainment — by the Bird-'Trane era they all detested Satchmo and his "mouldy figges" — but Cow Bop embrace the down-home format without sacrificing any of their complex, communicative musicality. Taken with the Los Angeles legacy of jazz-country trailblazing (Jimmie Rodgers and Armstrong recorded together here in 1930; when the Palomino opened in 1949 it promptly instituted a weekly jazz night), this ranks as a passionate mutation of dazzling proportions.

With material that draws from L.A.–based C&W spearheads Sons of the Pioneers and Merle Travis, plus Tin Pan Alley and Nashville standards, Too Hick showcases the band's deft knack for musical miscegenation, an issue that Wills' Texas Playboys aggressively forced; his guitarist Junior Barnard was neck and neck with Charlie Christian in terms of amplified '30s swing-to-bop expression. That competitive chain of custody is exactly where Forman thrives, resulting in a riveting, legitimate expansion of both forms.

Jonny Whityeside, LAWeekly

There’ve been rare cross-pollinations between jazz and country music, but mostly from the country side of the fence, i.e., Bob Wills, Vassar Clements, Willie Nelson, and Asleep at the Wheel. Here’s one from the jazz side, and it’s a dandy.  They take standards from the jazz/classic pop continuum (“Chinatown,” “Besame Mucho”), country (“Crazy”), and western (“Cool Water”) and render them with a mix of hearty, sassy corn-free twang, lean uptown swing and hot bebop licks. Forman’s got a hefty yet nimble guitar sound, lustrous and classy. Ms. Pinto has the smoky spunk and range of Patsy Cline, and the band swings with the panache of Django Reinhardt’s classic quintets. Most notable track: “Sweet Temptation,” where soul-jazz organ finds sanctuary in a Louisiana honky tonk. Great stuff, this, and try to see ‘em LIVE. If this band doesn’t get your toes a-tapping, call a med-specialist posthaste.

Mark Keresman, Icon Magazine

From Western Swing Monthly:

This latest CD from the top-flight Southern California outfit carries a pair of dedications, to Drew Daniels and Jimmy Wyble . Both are apt. Respected West Coast jazz figure Daniels recorded the disc, and Wyble could easily be its spiritual godfather. Western-swing fans know the late guitarist for his sizzling work in Bob Wills’ early ‘40s California bands, while many jazz aficionados are aware of Wyble’s prowess as a straight-ahead jazz musician .

Bruce Forman, founder of Cow Bop, comes squarely out of the Wyble mold. He’s an accomplished, fluid guitarist equally at home playing bop-style jazz and western swing – in fact, from the beginning he and his band have mixed the two styles to excellent effect. Every disc by Cow Bop is as much Bop as it is Cow, and Too Hick for the Room is no exception.

Led as always by Forman and his vocalist wife, Pinto Pammy , Too Hick for the Room also features excellent work from fiddler Phil Salazar, bassist Alex King, and drummer Jake Reed, a man who’s not afraid to employ a few percussive effects now and again. Although it’s a jazz – and, to a lesser extent, western-swing – tradition to take very well-known songs and give them a unique spin, Cow Bop is fearless in its selection of material this time around, recording fresh takes on the signature songs of Patsy Cline (“Crazy”), Patti Page (“Tennessee Waltz”), the Sons of the Pioneers (“Cool Water”) and Mr . Wills himself (“San Antonio Rose”). In each case, the band brings something new and even beautiful to those familiar numbers, whether it's the breathtaking guitar and fiddle tandem work in “San Antonio Rose” or the wistful, haunting vocal of Pinto Pammy on “Cool Water,” sung over a bassline that throbs like a fatigued heartbeat.

As befits a band made up of stellar musicians, the guest players are all excellent as well, contributing piano, sax, trombone, and organ on different tracks. Roger Kellaway’s keyboard fills, for instance, provide neat extra propulsion for “ Alabamy Bound,” which – intentionally, I’m sure – evokes Les Paul and Mary Ford, who had a memorable version of the song out in the mid-‘50s.

I’ve been a Cow Bop fan from the beginning, and, like its two predecessors, this 11-cut CD is going to get plenty of air time on my radio show. In any discussion of the top acts on today’s western-swing scene, Cow Bop had better be in the conversation.

-- John Wooley, host of Swing on This , 7 p.m. Saturdays on KWGS (89.5 FM) in Tulsa , streaming at kwgs.org

From New Zealand:

When F. Scott Fitzgerald said that there were no second acts in American life he had not foreseen the second act on Friday night. This was cheeky, sassy, swinging, bop-infused countrified music and against all odds it was seriously hip. American life was re-branded that night and as we witnessed it in disbelief, we participated in the fun. Bruce Forman is a Jazz legend, at the forefront of Jazz education and has accompanied some of the musics icons. Bruce is a natural comedian and he really pushed the envelope with his in-your-face Cow Bop humour. It is hard to describe adequately in words, as the context was everything, but suffice to say it worked. There were musical jokes of the highest order and some home grown corn; delivered from under a stetson hat with a twinkling eye...more

John Fenton, Jazz Local 32

Have I lost my mind? Well...There are actually several schools of thought on that.

If you take a look at my "About Me" page you will notice I mention that I am not here to promote one specific artist, label, or genre of music and have often referred to jazz as a musical melting pot. Now my words are coming back to haunt me...and I have never had more fun!

Cow Bop is the brain child of guitarist Bruce Forman who is indeed the swingin' statesman of west coast jazz. To begin you need a musical frame of reference - think Kenny Burrell meets Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys.

According to Forman, "Too Hick For The Room" is announcing the official repeal of jazz snobbery. As a card carrying member of the jazz elite I had my doubts but found this to be one of the most entertaining and well thought out musical projects I have heard in some time...more

Brent Black, Digital Jazz Reviews

Music has a grand tradition of borrowing, whether you consider Mozart inserting snippets of popular tunes in his original compositions, jazz musicians inserting bits of Mozart into their improvised solos, or hip-hop artists sampling jazz solos as the backdrop for some radio single... The musicians on Cow Bop: Too Hick for the Room fit nicely into this canon by mashing up a line dancer's dream ensemble with arrangements that wouldn't be out of place on Woody Herman's bandstand. The outcome is joyful, virtuosic, and unexpected. The only disappointment is the cartoon designs that grace the CD packaging, making this look most like a compilation for children rather than a batch of impressive musical talent.

The track listing on Too Hick for the Room shows a bevy of classics, matched to the band's solid vocalist, Pinto Pammy. Judging by the photo of Cow Bop from the CD's inside flap, half the band looks under 30 and the other half can't be far into their 40s. We mention this because the songs chosen for Too Hick for the Room are more likely to have emotional ties for folks over 50. Dance bands in the olden days probably never ended a night without at least one run through "Tennessee Waltz," and tunes like "San Antonio Rose" and "Besame Mucho" found their audience back in the sock-hop days. Vocal classics like "Crazy" and "It's a Sin to Tell a Lie" bring back memories of Patsy Cline and vocal groups like The Ink Spots, plus the band pulls out a few instrumental numbers along the way.

This sounds like a golden oldies roundup, but Cow Bop: Too Hick for the Room is nothing like that. The band will be chugging along in typical form and then break away into some extended riffing, with solos that especially showcase the talents of fiddle player Phil Salazar and guitarist Bruce Forman. It's obvious that these two aren't limited in their scope of musical appreciation, and that they have a considerable amount of jazz, country, bluegrass, and probably three other genres at their disposal. The entire group rallies nicely around the original arrangements and manages to make old chestnuts like "Alabamy Bound" sound new and fresh. That's a minor miracle. Singer Pammy sounds full of life and enthusiasm, and has also obviously studied the performances of the great vocalists that performed these numbers. At the end of the day, Cow Bop: Too Hick for the Room is an original effort, a combination of some disparate styles that absolutely works. Jazz and country music can be packed neatly into the same room, one that Cow Bop proves can be enjoyed by hipsters and hicksters alike.

-Matt Paddock, GameVortex Communications

Speaking of knowing what you’re doing, consider Cow Bop. Led by the extraordinary guitarist Bruce Forman, Cow Bop takes old-timey songs and makes them into something new with an approach that might be called twang-jazz. The musicianship is beyond superb, which is one reason they are booked to appear at this year’s Los Angeles Guitar Festival as well as the Monterey Jazz Festival. Sure, each member of the group would probably be the leader if they were in any other band, but the appeal of Cow Bop goes way beyond superior playing.

For the record, the nifty-zesty rhythm section is comprised of Jake Reed on drums and Alex King on bass. Sharing lead lines is Phil Salazar on fiddle, and he can do jazz or country at the drop of a hat. Plus, he sometimes plays through a wah-wah pedal, making some otherworldly noises that fit into the mix just fine ‘n’ dandy. Stepping out front on the tunes is vocalist Pinto Pammy, who connects with the audience on every note. The gal sings and swings.

But the main thing Cow Bop has in their favor is simply this: they are an absolute gas to watch. People whoop and holler and cheer and applaud and dance. And those of us who have attempted to play or record great guitar sounds are often transfixed by the fluidity and grace of Forman’s work.

Chris G, Music Industry Hotwire

COW BOP/Too Hick for the Room : When you grow up a mile from Jethro Burns house, an appreciation for cow jazz gets seeped into your blood stream. Texas jazzbo guitar man , Bruce Forman mixes his love of jazz and western swing into the kind of band date that Burns would have certainly gotten a kick out of as he raced from a session with Dave Holland to one with Steve Goodman . If you’ve ever gotten a kick out of Bob Wills passing out “ah-ha”s in the middle of a record, which he handed out instead of money, then this work out on songs that should never appear side by side on the same record will grab you. A solid adult listening treat, the hot chops are on simmer, the moves precise and the good times are on high. Simply a killer set.
Chris Spector, Midwest Record

Listeners should be wary of the self-deprecating impression given by a Gary Larsonesque cartoon on the cover, the lampoonish attire, or the title of the CD, Too Hick for the Room. Bruce Forman, legendary jazz guitarist and founder of the JazzMasters Workshop, put Cow Bop together with some top notch talent. Their first CD debuted in 2004 and charted in four genres. Joining Forman are fiddler Phil Salazar, bass man Alex King, drummer Jake Reed, and lead vocalist, Pinto Pammy. Pammy’s voice is a strong character-filled instrument that satisfies and turns heads. You have to pay attention. She’s such a refreshing change from the weak adolescent-sounding female singers so prevalent on the airwaves today!...more

F.C. Etier, Technorati: Jazzed Up


I loves me some swing, some Tex Mex, some hot jazz, and some cool cowboy tunes, but it's not often ya kin get 'em all rolled up in one sweet lil disc, hombres. Cow Bop manages the entire package in a be-boppin' 12-cut chopsfest, 'cause this is even more a showcase of top flight musicianship than a venue for heel kickin' dance hall partying alongside a love song or three that can't help but capture a bit of boogie in all the purtified sweet talkin' (wait'll ya hear what Pinto Pammy 'n the boys do with Besame Mucho). Sure, ya gets those too, but, pardner, what Bruce Forman (guitar), Phil Salazar (fiddle), Alex King (bass), and Jake Reed (drums) can do with this material: hee-haw!…more

Mark S. Tucker, The Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange

Cow Bop, the popular western bebop band led by USC Thornton faculty guitarist Bruce Forman , has announced its upcoming release, Too Hick for the Room . The recording is a quintessentially Thornton effort: Thornton students Jake Reed (D.M.A., Jazz Studies) and Alex King (B.M., Music) are featured members of the band, Thornton alumnus Doug Gerry (D.M.A., Studio/Jazz Guitar) produced, and Thornton faculty member Andrew Garver mastered the album. Too Hick for the Room will be available through the band's website , CD Baby, and iTunes.

This Week at Thornton

With the Elko Convention Center auditorium near capacity for Saturday's final show of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, there was much at stake for ending the annual festival on a high-note. The performers did not disappoint. The hot cowboy jazz group Cow Bop led off the final performance with Pinto Pammy channeling Patsy Cline and jazz guitar virtuoso Bruce Forman picking away on the guitar, it didn't seem that things could get any better. That's when fiddler Phil Salazar let loose on the fiddle during a medley of the original piece, “The Boomer Stampede” and the classic “Orange Blossom Special.” Although more commonly heard with a harmonica solo, Salazar filled in on the fiddle, recreating every note with precision, literally sawing away at his fiddle. When it was all over, the group received an uproarious applause from the audience, and Salazar's fiddle bow had shed a few horse hairs. “I think his horse is complaining,” Forman said jokingly in response to the wild applause.” The Elko News

The unexpected delight of the evening was the dance that followed; or rather, the dance band for the dance that followed! Pinto Pammy of Cow Bop has that smoky barroom voice of old-time torch singers, and combined with the incredible musicianship of guitarist Bruce Forman , violinist Richard Chon , and Mike McKinley on drums, this group is pure gold. I left with a CD, and I've played it almost non-stop since. " Joe Lynn Kirkwood, Heber City

Guitarist Bruce Forman is best known as a bebopper, but, hailing from Texas, he grew up hearing the sounds of western swing. A few years ago, he developed a side project called COW BOP , a band that combines elements of jazz, western swing, honky-tonk and bluegrass. Too Hick for the Room (B4MAN MUSIC – 101) is the third Cow Bop album, and it is a pleasurable confection of escapism. The band is comprised of Forman on guitar, Pinto Pammy on vocals, Phil Salazar on fiddle, Alex King on bass and Jake Reed on drums. He has corralled a few ringers with pianist Roger Kellaway added on two tracks, and saxophonist Allen Mezquida, trombonist Andy Martin and organist Joe Bagg on one track each. As they proceed through “San Antonio Rose,” “Beseme Mucho,” “Cool Water,” “El Cumbanchero,” “Anytime,” “Comes Love,” “Tennessee Waltz,” “It’s a Sin to Tell a Lie,” “Alabamy Bound,” “Sweet Temptation,” “Crazy” and “Chinatown,” you will find yourself continuously tapping your toe, and grinning. Forman is a formidable guitarist who keeps things fresh. Pinto Pammy is just the right vocalist for the group, one who finds the right approach to a variety of settings. Cow Bop’s first two albums are out-of-print, but I intend to scare up copies from some place. In the meantime, I will satisfy my western swing Jones with Too Hick for the Room , and will find excuses to play it for anyone who will listen. ( www.cowbop.com ) - Joe Lang, Jersey Jazz