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Rick Huff reviews Western music and cowboy poetry releases in his "Rick Huff's Best of the West Reviews" column in Rope Burns,The Western Way from the Western Music Association, the Backforty Bunkhouse Newsletter, CowboyLegacy.org, and at CowboyPoetry.com, We're pleased to have selected reviews below.


Rick Huff considers Western music books and recordings; cowboy poetry books, chapbooks, and recordings; and relevant videos for review. For other materials, please query first: bestofthewest@swcp.com

Please be sure to include complete contact information, price (plus postage) and order address information.

Rick Huff
 P.O. Box 8442
 Albuquerque, NM  87198-8442


 

Rick Huff has produced radio and TV ads and done TV hosting and deejay work for nearly 37 years.  He's had his own production company in Albuquerque, New Mexico, since 1978.  

His working interest in Western Music began in 1983, promoting and creating with Western Music Hall-of-Famer Hi Busse.  In 1986 they developed the radio featurette "Song and Story with Hi Busse" and Huff subsequently released two albums of Hi Busse & The Frontiersmen material.  He has co-produced CD's for Sons of the Rio Grande and Jim Jones. 

In 1999 he and Sidekick Productions' Mary Ryland formed Frontiersmen 2 to co-produce their radio show "The Best of the West Revue" and its publication "The Best of the West Digest."  In 2004 they released a double CD set, The Best of New Mexico Western: Big Surprises From Behind the Chile Curtain! and are currently working on Volume II - or as they like to call it Son of the Best of New Mexico Western!  

 

Huff's "Western Air" column appears regularly in the Western Music Association's magazine, The Western Way. He also writes for Classic Country & Western magazine and Rope Burns. The column is a regular feature of the Western Music Association's quarterly magazine, The Western Way, and we're pleased to have recent columns posted here.

 


Selected Reviews from Rick Huff's Best of the West Reviews

 

This is page two

See page one for a complete alphabetical list of all reviews

Alphabetically by artist, below

A
JB the circle (J. B. Allen's poetry) edited by Duward Campbell and Chuck Milner
Born to be a Cowboy by David Anderson
Ride Easy, Pard! by Vic Anderson
 

B
Prairie Rose by Bad Bob
Standing Tall in the Shadows (Memoirs of a Hollywood Manager) by Dick Baxter
Ride Back in Time by Joe Bethancourt
Window of Memories by Marci Broyhill
One More Dance by Buckshot Dot (Dee Strickland Johnson)
 

C
Astraddle a Saddle, by Patty Clayton
Woodsmoke at Sundown by Dean Cook
I'm Gonna Be a Cowboy by Ken Cook
The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Two from CowboyPoetry.com
Way Out West by Hank Cramer
 

D
Every Horse I Ever Rode by Kevin Davis
Keepin' Your Head Above Water by Devon Dawson
Spreadin' Sunshine by Sam DeLeeuw
 

E
Rodeo Bones by Richard Elloyan
R.W. Hampton Presents Oklahoma...Where The West Remains by R.W. Hampton, Rich O’Brien, The Enid Symphony Orchestra 

 

F
Gone for Colorado by Juni Fisher
Yondering— Songs of the American West by Rich Flanders

G
Here Comes a Change by Jim Garling
in the Good Old Days by Joe Green
It Sings in the Hi-Line by Kerry Grombacher
How to Yodel (Lessons to Tickle Your Tonsils) by Wylie Gustafson

H
R.W. Hampton Presents Oklahoma...Where The West Remains by R.W. Hampton, Rich O’Brien, The Enid Symphony Orchestra 
First Light by Audrey Hankins
Silver Shadows, by Tom and Donna Hatton
High Road To Taos by Michael Hearne
A Cowboy's Prayer by Barry Hertz
What A Man's Got To Do by Brenn Hill
Pieces of the Past by Yvonne Hollenbeck (with Jean Prescott)
What Would Martha Do? by Yvonne Hollenbeck
Western Moon by Horse Crazy

J
Beneath These Western Skies by Judy James
One More Dance by Buckshot Dot (Dee Strickland Johnson)
Tilting At Windmills by Jim Jones

K
Life Is Good by Teresa Kay
 

L
Back on the Dusty Trail by Lone Prairie
Red Hot From Blue Rock by Lucky Tomblin Band

M
Cowboy Promises by Rodger Maxwell
Trail Songs & Campfire Ballads by Pat Meade
Asphalt Cowboy by Al Mehl
Cowboy Pottery by Al Mehl

N
Full Nelson Shoeing by Andy Nelson
Back to My Boots and Saddle by Barbara Nelson
Home Ranch Trails by Nevada Slim and Cimarron Sue
 

O
R.W. Hampton Presents Oklahoma...Where The West Remains by R.W. Hampton, Rich O’Brien, The Enid Symphony Orchestra 

P
She Rode a Wild Horse by Susan Parker
Legendary Conversations by Tracy Pitcox
Deep in the Saddle by Prairie Rose Wranglers
The Last of the Border Cowboys by Gil Prather
Pieces of the Past by Yvonne Hollenbeck (with Jean Prescott)
 

R
Wild Provence by Lorraine d’Entremont Rawls with J. Anne Lazarus
Beyond the Brand by Dan Roberts
My Personal Favorites Vol. 1 by Natalie Rose
Cimarron by Kris Ann Russell

S
Montana Legacy by Sandy Seaton
Son of the Prairie Wind by Del Shields
To Be a Top Hand by Georgie Sicking
It's Just a State of Mind ("live" at Tales from the Tavern) by Dave Stamey
Old Friends by Dave Stamey
In The Shadow Of The Rim by Howard Steele

T
A Country Kid Looks Back by Monty Moncrief Teel
Cafe du Swing by Texas Gypsies
Ghosts Of Tombstone by Trails & Rails
Ranchin' Rhymes by Diane Tribitt
Trail Mix by Diane Tribitt

W
Red Lips & Honky Tonks by Jerry Webb
If I Hadn't Seen the West by Joyce Woodson
Bucking Horse Moon, by Wylie & the Wild West

Y
Buy American by Farron Young
 


Various Artists
The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Two from CowboyPoetry.com
The Gift—A Tribute to Ian Tyson by various artists
Giving Back, various artists
Warehouse Tracks by various artists
The Heart of Texas records catalog various artists


Additional reviews on page 3  and page 4

See page one for a complete alphabetical list of all reviews

 



Pieces of the Past
Yvonne Hollenbeck with Jean Prescott

This album is like a quilt in sound, disassembled for you, with the histories and heart of each square, star and strip shown to you before being lovingly sewn into the whole. It’s the kind of creation Cowboy Poet Yvonne Hollenbeck stitches together with homespun expertise: “All we have are memories as long as they will last, and things we cherish most of all…these pieces of the past.”

The Jean Prescott songs featured here lace in perfectly. Some are Hollenbeck/Prescott collaborations (“Her Feet Would Rock A Cradle” and “How Far Is Lonesome?”), and a couple of others just happen to nicely fit the pattern (“She Always Smelled Like Lilacs,” “Handmade Gift” and “Women Of The West”). Producer Rich O’Brien scores again with his customary sensitivity to the material he’s working with.

One of the gratifying aspects of working in the Western Music and Cowboy Poetry genres is that their most successful recorded offerings cause you to have an experience. We’re not simply entertained or, as it is too often with formulaic Country, merely pacified or mollified. When Western artists the caliber of Hollenbeck, Prescott and O’Brien team up, an experience is guaranteed.

CDs: $15 ppd from www.backfortybunkhouse.com


© 2008, Rick Huff


Ranchin' Rhymes
Diane Tribitt

The title says it…but this time out “MN Cowgirl Poet” Diane Tribitt says a good deal more!  Her CD entitled “Ranchin’ Rhymes” is both straightforward and all-encompassing.

With her soft, personal but expressive delivery, Tribitt takes you through the light humor and familiarity of “Rancher Lips,” “The Heifer Pen,” “Upgrading The Herd,” “Cookie’s Cuisine” or “The Practice Pen” and gives you a close up view of the way it is in “Spring-A Cowboy’s View,” “His Own Pace” or “Ain’t That The Truth.”  Unique indeed is the perspective of “Live Backwards,” “Tribute To A Cowboy” is destined to be recited at many a memorial and she’s hardly shy about confronting certain realities of life as she proves in “You Can Squat With Your Spurs On.” 

Subtle integration of sound and music effects match and enhance the mood whether it’s humorous or heartfelt.  And, as with her previous album, she ends with a song from a guest artist…this time Paul Larson with R.W. Hampton’s “The One That I Never Could Ride.”  It’s an interesting outing for one of the lady poets with plenty to say.

CDs:  $18 ppd through www.dianetribitt.com or from Diane Tribitt, 38034 193rd St., Hillman, MN 56338

© 2008, Rick Huff


Gone for Colorado
Juni Fisher

In recent times Juni Fisher’s albums have taken on more specific reasons for being, making them all the more interesting.  “Gone To Colorado” is the true story of her own ancestors in and around Sedalia, Colorado in the late 1800s, and it represents some of her best work to date.

The trek commences with the adventurous prospect of beginning again.  As rugged reality and the demands of pulling life together set in, so come the challenges, dashed dreams and standing strong to prevail.

There’s beautiful vocal support from Patty Clayton on several of the songs; production and performance perfection from Rich O’Brien; violin/fiddle and viola provided by Steve Story and fretless and standup bass by Ronny Ellis.  The songs here that aren’t Juni originals are still perfect thematic fits…including “Railroad Corral,” “Colorado Trail” and a terrific and different treatment of Ian Tyson’s “Range Delivery.”  And impressive in another way is the declarative statement written atop the song list on the album:  “Western Music!”

What more can be said??  It’s a Juni Fisher project…and that means it’s as good as it gets!

CDs:  $17 ppd from Red Geetar Records, 2105 Granville Rd., Franklin, TN 37064 (tell them if you want it personalized) or online from www.junifisher.com

 © 2008, Rick Huff


Old Friends
Dave Stamey

What a gift it is to be able to perform standards…and by that we mean “warhorses”…in a way that makes listeners feel they’re really hearing them, or finally listening to them, for the first time!  Dave Stamey’s is such a gift.

On Stamey’s new CD “Old Friends” he wisely offers songs that people have either heard him do, or would want to hear him do.  They’ll likely want to hear them again and again. Here is an artist who isn’t afraid to use fresh colors, but understands staying within the lines.  With that sensitivity and love, on this album Dave gives us a stirring of the famous and the favorites.  Among them are Jimmie Rodgers’ “Waiting For A Train,” Tex Owens’ “Cattle Call,” Bob Nolan’s “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” Stan Jones’ “Ghost Riders In The Sky” Autry & Long’s “Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine” and “Colorado Trail” (credited as simply “P.D.” which it may be, but it was actually written in the 1920s by James A. Bliss).  Several more contemporary songs from Joe Babcock, the late Jane Bowers and Stamey himself will give you a most enjoyable ride.  So, mount up!

CDs:  $15 plus $3 s/h through www.davestamey.com

© 2008, Rick Huff


It's Just a State of Mind ("live" at Tales from the Tavern)
Dave Stamey

Here it is, folks!  Here’s the clear proof for anyone who didn’t know the name, or who wondered why this Dave Stamey fella wound up winning the Western Music Association’s Entertainer of the Year award and others.  Here…it…IS!!!

Here we have an audience, the romping guitar and Dave…which is all it takes!  His winning personality comes through loud and clear as he introduces and sings such crowd pleasers as “It’s The West,” “Buckaroo Man,” “Montana” and “If I Only Had A Horse!”  Filling in the stories of how many of his most popular creations came about is richer icing on this cake.

Newer songs like the hilarious “Someone Needs To Go Back Home” and the haunting “Crazy Mary” are here, as is one that I have craved since first hearing it about ten years back “Dude String Trail.” And wrapping it up with the showstoppng “Ruby Could Sing” makes the event perfection.

Show this one to anyone who asks what the deal is with Contemporary Western Music.  Show this one to anyone who doubts Western can still draw interest.  In fact, just show this one to anyone!!!

CDs:  $15 plus $3 s/h through www.davestamey.com.

 © 2008, Rick Huff


Woodsmoke at Sundown
Dean Cook

‘Ever heard of a subtle, understated knock-out punch?  ‘Ever heard o Dean Cook??!

More people are hearing Cook or, more accurately, listening to Dean Cook...resulting in other singers paying serious attention and picking up his songs.  Most recently cover versions of a couple of his intricate little numbers showed up on Buckshot Dot’s new CD. But to get the full effect of Cook’s own “sung speech,” check out his release from a little ways back called “Woodsmoke At Sundown!”  All I’d have to say to many folks is this is the album that has “New Cowboy’s Lament” on it. Y’know…‘I’m roadkill on the information highway?’ Yeah! That one!

Along with Cook’s nearly talked vocal style comes his nearly whisper quiet guitar style, wherein the strings are as much brushed as plucked.  Not that it was necessary, but several tracks have a sort of group sing-along feel provided by Jim and Ellie Hartz-Cook.

Dean Cook is genuine, eccentric fun.  Pick him up and have some yourself!

CDs:  $15 plus $2 s/h from Dean Cook, 4721 W. Cheryl Dr., Glendale, AZ 85302.  email: azminstrel@yahoo.com

© 2008, Rick Huff


One More Dance
Buckshot Dot (Dee Strickland Johnson)

The title track is the only poem…and a sweetly moving one it is…on this otherwise  all-sung sixteen track CD from Western national treasure Dee Strickland Johnson, a.k.a. “Buckshot Dot.”  Overall, I think this one is her best yet.

Part of the artistic success has to do with the material being very well suited to Dot’s mature delivery, and also that the final effect is a beautiful example of “less is more.”  No way could production effects, more players or fleshed-out arrangements improve this pristine CD.  Along with Dot (vocals/guitar), kudos must go to Peter Rolland (fiddle/mandolin/banjo/guitar harmonics) and Gail Rolland (cello).

Emotional experiences run the gamut from wistful (Dean Cook’s fine “First Waltz”) and thought-provoking (Ken Graydon’s “I Never Knew What Lonesome Was” and others) all the way to riotous (Dot’s own “My Tostada”)…and check out the clever lyrics of a yodel in “The Girl From The Roed Rose Saloon!”  Oh yes…finally someone has picked up on Dave Stamey’s little gem “Opal!”  Besides being “the real deal” herself, Dee Strickland Johnson is also an artist who knows it when she sees it.

CDs:  $18 ppd (or two for $28.50 ppd) from Buckshot Dot Enterprises, HC 3 Box 593-F, Payson, AZ 85541

 © 2008, Rick Huff


Rodeo Bones
Richard Elloyan
 

The “cliffhanger” ending of this CD’s opening track suggests its singer is “looking for a place in time I’ve never been before.”  That pursuit has made Richard Elloyan the purveyor of some of the most interesting stories and original music in the Contemporary Cowboy catalogue.

If occasionally some Elloyan songs take more than one pass to fully grasp, at least you always know the effort’s worth it as their full gifts unfold in layers.  With lines of color like “he was a six-foot twisted cowboy with a face like a broken bone,” or “estimated time is no time…chasin’ down that windshield moon,” Richard Elloyan paints his songs with truly striking images. 

Among the other treats this time are “Tumbleweed Heart” (the very ‘freight train soul and tumbleweed heart’ of a drifting song), “Twenty Years” (contender for one of the sweetest cowboy love songs ever), “Impossible Blue” (a roll-out cowboy call from the spirit of the west) and “Outlaw Run” (a steely song with a kick of irony)!  Plus there’s a new take of his also-ironic “Hangman’s Tune” from his debut CD. 

Richard Elloyan is always quite a ride.  Saddle up!

CD:  $15 plus $2.50 s&h from www.richardelloyan.com or from Richard Elloyan, 320 Ophir Road, Payton, NV 89403.  Info & booking:  (775) 246-7183

 © 2008, Rick Huff


Way Out West
Hank Cramer

Here’s another one of those releases that I saw some write-ups on before receiving it myself.  Well, I have to say the raves didn’t rave in vain!

Indeed Hank Cramer can sing.  His vocal quality is deep and expressive, and conveys (to me) a sort of Waylon Jennings effect.  Solid acoustic support from his fellow players makes the classics here sparkle (“Diamond Joe,” “Colorado Trail,” “Whoopy [sic] Ti Yi Yo,” “Bard of Armagh/Streets of Laredo” and others).  The newer songs include strong covers of Chuck Pyle’s “Two of A Kind” and “Lay This Old Guitar Down,” K.W. Todd’s haunting “Oregon Trail,” Guy Clark’s “Last Gunfighter Ballad,” two Bill Staines goodies and a couple of good banjo breakdowns, too.  Cramer also provides an interesting spin on Ian Tyson’s “Someday Soon” sung from the perspective of the rodeo cowboy who’s driving in to get the rancher’s daughter!  I’ve now officially heard that amazing song sung from every character’s viewpoint!!

With a total of eighteen songs, this is one of the CDs I’ll be nominating for “Traditional Western Album” categories.

CD:   $16 ppd US from Ferryboat Music, Box 22, Winthrop, WA 98862 (website:  www.hankcramer.com )

 © 2008, Rick Huff


Red Hot From Blue Rock
Lucky Tomblin Band

It’s great when the pros make poetry out of Honky Tonk!  And this time you even get to watch!!!

The Lucky Tomblin Band is the classic example of top soloists and session players who got together to get to other levels.  Thankfully Lucky Tomblin and band members Earl Poole Ball, Redd Volkaert, Bobby Arnold, John Reed, Sarah Brown and John Hahn take us along as they go there.

The band’s CD “Red Hot From Blue Rock” draws its title from the wondrous Blue Rock Artist Ranch & Studio in Wimberly, Texas where the little masterpiece was created.  As Tomblin puts it, “to work with this band at this place is a gift time can’t erase!”  Through the companion DVD’s interviews and views of the recordings being made, this is as inclusive an experience for the music lover as it obviously was for the participants.  You can hear and see romping, intuitive interpretations of favorites like “Honky Tonk Song,” “End of The Road,” “Setting The Woods On Fire,” “Party Doll,” “Time Changes Everything,” “Red Hot” and seven other greats.

Heads up, you fans of Honky Tonk, Roadhouse, Classic Country and Western Swing!!  The Lucky Tomblin Band’s “Red Hot From Blue Rock” is some of the best of all of it you’ll ever hear.

CD/DVD set:  $17 through www.luckytomblinband.com or contact Denise Boudreaux (512) 615-2412 at Texas World Records, 816 Congress Ave., Ste.1510, Austin, TX 78701

 © 2008, Rick Huff


My Personal Favorites Vol. 1
Natalie Rose

Fifteen years old and ready for bear!!  That’s “Natalie Rose” Capparelli (daughter of restaurateurs Tina & Guy), the next Country Swing singin’ phenom to arrive!  I’d say “Honky Tonk” ‘cept she ain’t ‘legal’ yet!

Her CD provides a showcase for her talent, which is obviously considerable!  Vocally she handles classic popular tracks like “Sweet Dreams,” “He’s A Rebel,” “You’re Lookin’ At Country,” “Daddy’s Hands” and others with ease and power.  Much of the accompaniment is provided by a string synthesizer, but the point is made nonetheless.  And it is because of what the young lady seems to bring to the table here that I’m about to put forth the following heresy.  I hope there isn’t a “My Personal Favorites Vol. Two!!”

Natalie Rose deserves to be allowed now to make her own statements, with material that is original, age-appropriate and thoughtfully picked.  “Blue” (for example) will likely never be done any better than LeAnn Rimes did it, and presenting it draws unfair comparisons.  “Lipstick On Your Collar,” “Little Rock” and others smack of predator involvement when done by a very young singer.  Based on her performance here, this one certainly deserves to be shown in the brightest light.

CDs:  $15 ppd through www.backfortybunkhouse.com

  © 2008, Rick Huff


Ride Easy, Pard!
Vic Anderson


Western entertainer Vic Anderson’s trademark sign-off provides a fitting title for a CD that’s a little razzamatazz, a little snazzy yodelin’ and a lotta smooth finger lickin’ pickin’!

This elder statesman of our genre has come out with a sweet, rustic offering of fourteen tracks. It should particularly please folks who fondly recall those chuckwagon dinners he crooned over in Estes Park, Colorado.

Vic’s Western music Association Yodeler Of The Year-winning warbling is here as is his virtuoso whistling. And his warmly winning, Ukelele Ike-registered voice is supported with brilliant musicianship from Liz Masterson and Sarah Lincoln (harmony vocals), Ernie Martinez (banjo/mandolin/dobro), Jon Chandler (harmonica), Hannah Alkire (cello), Gordan Burt (fiddle), Chris Kennon (Hawaiian steel/ukulele), John Magnie (accordion) and Scott Wilseck (barroom piano). The rich soup was stirred by “master” chef Butch Hause. Delicious!

CDs: $15 plus $2 s/h from Vic Anderson, 2021 Fish Creek Road, Estes Park, CO 80517.

Website: www.yodelingcowboy.com

© 2008, Rick Huff


Deep in the Saddle
Prairie Rose Wranglers
 

This CD was the final one recorded by this terrific showband under the Prairie Rose Wrangler “franchise.” It must have been covered in the dust from the collapse of Wild West World, because it didn’t get properly covered otherwise. That’s doubly unfortunate since it represents some of their best work yet.

Stu Stuart, Jim Farrell, Orin Friesen and Steve Crawford are now the Diamond W Wranglers and play in their own successful chuckwagon supper club at Cowtown in Wichita. As if further proof were needed, this CD will affirm these guys deserve to go nowhere but up!!!

Splendid original songs on the CD include a jazzy, fascinating creation called “The River,” a tale with an O. Henry ending entitled “On My Way To Ruidoso,” the title track “Deep In The Saddle” which is reminiscent of “Ridin’ Down The Canyon” and one that was a surprise for me, “Dixie Caught A Train.” I’d been a fan of it ever since hearing a version years back by Woody & Cleda Jane Cochran, having no idea Jim Farrell was one of its writers!

You’ll find nice covers here of “Seven Spanish Angels,” “Blue Canadian Rockies,” “Red Headed Stranger,” and wait til you hear “Rainbow Sister!” It’s a centuries-old Chinese folk song the guys prepared for their trip and sing in Mandarin Chinese using classic Western harmony!! There’s your “East meets West,” folks! Simply outstanding!!

CDs: $16 plus $3.25 s/h from Jim Farrell, 217 W. 3rd Street, Andover, KS 67002


© 2008, Rick Huff


Buy American
Farron Young

Faron Young??? Yep, believe it or not! Here’s an honest to gosh time capsule from the late star! It’s a four-pack of songs including three that have never before been released.

I’d heard awhile back from Liz & Casey Anderson that this project might be in the works. It seems twenty-five years ago (and still in fine voice), the Country legend recorded tracks for the Andersons. Liz’s novel social commentary song “Are You Hungry? Eat your Import!” failed to connect with the blissfully unaware audience of the early 1980s. It fits in just fine today!

The new tracks are the honky tonker “Back In The Cheating Business,” Liz Anderson’s swinging “Free” and the uptempo ballad “Sweet Tennessee.” These are great, solid Country tracks…very nicely produced by Casey Anderson. With any luck they should find a receptive audience.

Now, thanks to Casey & Liz Anderson’s Showboat records, collectors can put a period at the end of the Faron Young sentence. Period?? Exclamation point!!!

CDs: $10 plus $2 s/h through www.showboatrecords.com

© 2008, Rick Huff


Prairie Rose
Bad Bob

 

The Tex Mex Folk Twin Fiddle Swing Honky Tonk CD “Prairie Rose” is, to put it mildly, quite a study in styles!!  And it’s not your typical gussied-up or slicked-down variety of any of it.  This is the stuff that drifted over the rise from the neighbor’s barn dance.  It’s the stuff that makes Western show hosts who “get it” jump up and hoot ‘n’ holler!  It also the stuff that makes your run of the mill Country Music programmers say “huh?” and scratch their heads.  Well, at least that way something gets to their heads…

“Bad Bob” is otherwise known as Bob Rohan, the cartoonist of the strip “Buffalo Gals.”  His performing and love of roots swing sort of lines him up with underground comics legend R. (Robert) Crumb who performed with friends in a folk & jug band.  Obviously they’re both artists of “note!” 

At times Bob’s voice seems to ride in the Red Steagall arena, although he handles it differently.  Top tracks on the CD include a Cajun style original “Ballad Of Harry Choates,” a gut bucket take of “Four Five Time,” a swing instrumental “Red River Valley” and the Yellow Rose of Texas-inspired title track.  Other Western standards include “Happy Rovin’ Cowboy,” “Don’t Fence Me In” and it’s nice to see a warhorse done by Rex & Bonnie Allen taken for a trot “Out Where The West Winds Blow.”  It’s fun, yet not all fun and games.  There’s some surprisingly serious lyric content in a couple of songs, but some folks can swing anything!!

CDs:  $15 ppd through www.backfortybunkhouse.com

 © 2008, Rick Huff



R.W. Hampton presents Oklahoma...Where The West Remains
(A Centennial Journey In Story & Song 1907-2007)

R.W. Hampton, Rich O’Brien, The Enid Symphony Orchestra 

There are many, many great features in this ambitious release.  Let me get some of them clearly pointed out, lest the nit I’m going to pick appear to overshadow the grandeur.

First, this CD is gloriously sung, produced and arranged.  R. W. Hampton gives his customary flawless performance, Rich O’Brien’s artistic touch is all over it and the Enid Symphony Orchestra (Douglas Newell, conductor) is shown off to good advantage.  That sprawling, big west feel is intact.  Poet/writer Edna Mae Holden, whose labor of love this project was, has co-written some fine songs with collaborators Hampton, O’Brien and Merle Harmon.  Several may well transcend into the greater Western Music library, including “Where The West Remains,” “Keeper Of The Plains.” “A Cowboy I Will Stay” and “101 Ranch Cowboy.”  In addition there are fine versions of “Everlasting Hills Of Oklahoma,” “Oklahoma Hills” and perhaps the best cover ever of Cindy Walker’s “Dusty Skies,” which by itself is worth the price of admission.  But here comes the “nit.”

Someone apparently decided this material would make a fine sort of sequel to R.W.’s famous award-winning show “The Last Cowboy.”  It isn’t a perfect fit.  Here we don’t get the sense of identity we did in that creation.  Maybe the theatrical effect could have been helped by additional principal singers, or maybe fewer songs written in first person and bearing the same basic message of “coming to stake my claim.”  There is an emotional detachment when we are told about Oklahoma’s “rich and colorful history” more than we are shown it.  Using an Oklahoma metaphor, if they’d’ve dug a little deeper they mighta brought in a gusher!  Again, though, if you’re not counting on that “journey in story and song” part and just go with the “song,” you will find a whole lot to like here!

CDs: $20 ppd through www.rwhampton.com or from Hampton Land & Lyrics, P.O. Box 150, Cimarron, NM 87714.  1-(800)-392-0822

© 2007, Rick Huff


The Gift—A Tribute To Ian Tyson
various artists

 

People who produce this kind of collection pretty much take their lives into their hands.  Ian fanatics will draw comparisons that aren’t necessarily fair, and plenty of fans of  artists who might be stretching what they do to cover what the composer does will shrug and ask “why.”

Before hearing this collection, I happened to come across a review that savaged it.  To me it was unfair, and many other reviewers (particularly Canadians) seem to be having no problem with the artistic merit.

Stoney Plain (Ian’s Canadian label) could have just positioned this CD as a tribute to the songwriting rather than a “gift” to Ian, which was the main bone of contention in the negative review.  But then there is that “gift” of the residuals to ol’ Ian, now isn’t there??!! 

The interpretations offered here are valid and interesting in the context of the artists performing them.  Fifteen known and lesser known songs of the Canadian Grand Master of Western are offered up by former bandmates from his Great Speckled Bird days, Gordon Lightfoot and Jennifer Warnes are present as are his friends Corb Lund, Tom Russell and others.  One is tempted to suspect the versions Tyson will consider to be the real gifts here are the rougher hewn “Cowboy” styled takes, like Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s “Will James,” David Rea on “The Gift” or maybe Buddy Cage’s “Someday Soon.”  And surely he would have enjoyed this “Range Delivery” wherein Cindy Church, who sang with him on the Songs From The Gravel Road original, takes over the lead with Ian on backup!

This collection points up that great songs are open to and nicely survive interpretation and, for the Western ear, there simply isn’t another interpreter like Ian Tyson. 

CDs:  The $20 range, available at Borders and other retail outlets and online through a number of sites…best price found $16.99 plus $3 s&h from www.villagerecords.com  

© 2007, Rick Huff


First Light
Audrey Hankins

When I was called on by my partner Jim Jones to supply some sound effects for a project, I didn’t really know what poet Audrey Hankins and he were up to.  Good thing.  It let me be totally free to sit back and let it wash over me.

Hankins is, of course, a highly respected artist in the genre of Cowboy Poetry, but if you’re not immediately familiar with her style I’ll describe it for you.  Hers isn’t an “acted” delivery.  She chooses instead to let the words carry the weight…and they do!  Jim Jones’ musical accompaniments along with his and Kip Calahan’s brief singing passages add extra color to the pallet along with the sound texturing. 

Hankins’ perspective is one you only get by being there, not reading about it.  The way that life makes you look at “The Waters,” or the “Mixed Feelings” of out-thinking the crafty steer and then mourning his fate, the cowboy’s thoughts about the ranch of an absentee owner he labors for, wondering if it’s really “His Place Or Mine.”  And although he delivered it well on his own album from last year, Jim Jones herein gives a fresh rendering and a special touch to Hankins’ “Another Page.”  But to top it all is “Hollyhocks,” a portrait of ranch wives enduring year after year that just might sneak up on you.  Definitely recommended.

CDs:  $17 ppd from Audrey Hankins, P.O. Box 688, Congress, AZ or phone (928) 427- 3885.

© 2007, Rick Huff




Tilting At Windmills
Jim Jones

Here’s one that’s just for fun!  The whole thing is as comfortable as an evening out at the neighborhood watering hole, which “coincidentally” it just happens to be!!

In the spirit of full disclosure, Jim is my songwriting partner, but I wasn’t connected with this particular effort.  Happily I found absolutely no reason to ravage it!

On this CD you’ll enjoy seventeen tracks…well, sixteen plus one “meeting the band” of Jim Jones (vocals/guitar), Steve Kinabrew (vocals/rhythm guitar), Susan Clark (vocals/accordion/keyboard) and Skip Batchelor (bass).  You can tell it’s essentially a classic Western instrument mix, but they’re handled in a slightly more contemporary style.  In advance Jim announced this one would actually be less “Western” than his last.  Ten of the seventeen are “cowboy” and the rest are Western arm-in-arms like “Gentle On My Mind” and “Roseville Fair.”  Jim just can’t help himself!  And their take on Guy Clark’s “Ramblin’ Jack & Mahan” shouldn’t be missed.

Fan-favorite Jones compositions here include “Lights Of Cimarron,” “Rustlers’ Moon,” “Train To Chama,” “Breakin’ Even” and “A Month Of Sundays.”  During the proceedings Kip Calahan even pops by for a fine acoustic rendering of the Westerns Channel anthem “Buckaroo Man!”  To hear all this, you’d never guess it was done outdoors with four lanes of traffic zooming by about forty feet away!  A “masterful” recording trick by band member and co-producer Kinabrew!

CDs:  $17 ppd from www.jimjonesmusic.com or direct from Jim Jones, P.O. Box 2264, Corrales, NM 87048 and his email address:  ajamojo@comcast.net

© 2007, Rick Huff


Beyond the Brand
Dan Roberts
 

Simply stated, Dan Roberts is one of those performers whose name is synonymous with “Excellent Product.”  From album to album, the only question becomes “where is his excellency focused this time?!”

 The collaborations here are mostly with tried and true writing partners like Roy (“The Cowboy Song”) Robinson, Bryan Kennedy and producer Tommy Allsup (with whom Dan wrote one of the CD’s true standouts among the standouts “Cowboy TV”).  Three more pick tracks are “Ropin’ His Dreams,” the Honky Tonk novelty “Family Practice” and a duet with Lona Heins “So Long Tall Texan.”  Most of the CDs songs are positive-toned and all of them once again tastefully bridge the “Country” and the “Western” chasm, playing well to either audience.  It needs to be in your collection.

We should mention a portion of the proceeds from sales go to the very worthy Refuse To Lose fund at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.  Heck, for steppin’ up cowboy-style that way I’ll even forgive Dan for that Spanglish malapropism “Viva la Cowboy” he leveled at me!!!

CDs:  $15 ppd through www.danroberts.net  and bookings contact Carol McKinney, P.O. Box 923, Aledo, TX 76008.  Phone:  (817) 599-5181

© 2007, Rick Huff


 

Keepin' Your Head Above Water
Devon Dawson

For this new solo CD Devon Dawson has left her yodeler in storage but her swinger is out in force!

The Texas Trailhand’s “Miss Devon” (and Disney/Pixar’s “Jessie The Yodelin’ Cowgirl”) has assembled with producer Rich O’Brien the swingingest little Cowboy combo you’d ever want to find to romp through these song that are, for the most part, based in fact. This nicely annotated album tells you all about it!

Those who would seek a clear example of the difference between Cowboy Swing and Western Swing will certainly spot it here. Except for the tempo, it’s really night and day! Whether the tempo is Swing, Waltz or Two-Step, it’s “Cowboy” all the way…with a couple of exceptional novelty departures. The speakeasy brass contributed by Dave Alexander, Greg Waite and John Stutler to “Mitzi Took A Ride” frisks it up nicely and Rich O’Brien waxes poetic at the microphone with Devon on “Ol’ Bill Pickett.”

Young fiddlin’ phenom Jess Meador shines on the tracks he’s on, proving he’s definitely poised to step to the forefront of the next generation’s players. He also co-wrote this CD’s title track with his mentor Miss Devon! Pick it up! It’ll keep you swingin’ til dawn.

CDs: $15 ppd from www.backfortybunkhouse.com

© 2007, Rick Huff


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In The Shadow Of The Rim
Howard Steele

 

Stylistically this album hearkens back to a lost Nashville.  Remember?  The “Music City” from the 1960s, where a certain type of dominant male voice delivered the songs?  It was the time of Porter Wagoner, Jim Reeves, Ernest Tubb, Cal Smith, Red Foley…but enough drifting and dreaming! 

On his release “In The Shadow of The Rim” Oregon’s Howard Steele does evoke the feeling of such singers.  Tonally he is most closely allied with Tubb and Smith and the arrangements help to enhance that classic Country effect.  Particularly when the backup singers join on songs like the title track, “Down Home Music” or “Good Bye Foggy Valley” you could swear this one came in a time capsule!

So now you know.  Somewhere, somehow…some folks are still makin’ ‘em like they used to.  Guaranteed this CD will take you back or, if you’re too young, possibly leave you completely mystified!

CDs: $15 ppd from www.backfortybunkhouse.com

© 2007, Rick Huff




High Road To Taos
Michael Hearne

As a fellow New Mexican of Michael Hearne’s, I’ll confess to having a bit more insight into the mood and ‘tude of this presentation than some who will hear it, and more than a little envy toward it as well.  Beyond his superb singing, playing and the contributions of artists like David Ball, Shake Russell, his own uncle the legendary Bill Hearne and others, this CD is listenable and satisfying on a number of levels.

What this Kerrville Folk Festival headliner has assembled here with his various co-writing friends is what I’d call a “legacy album.”  It’s the sort of offering an artist should want to make before cashing out.  If it sounds like I’m impressed with this, then I’m getting the message across.  Hearne sure does here, from the first tracks with the feeling of creative malaise and the collapse of pop culture ideals to hearing a different drum (or Robert Mirabal flute, in this case) calling from Taos and living that life as the working musician Hearne is with all its loves, experiences, lessons and regrets as well.

There’s great poetry in lines like “I work my hands in wire and wood and sing like a whippoorwill” and “only time will tell if it was time well spent,” snaring “souvenirs of this trip around the sun” and finally winding up at a never ending toot in Honky Tonk Heaven (where Elvis strolls in after living for years in Roy, New Mexico)!  The styles include contemporary folk, honky tonk, swing, ballads and more, but it’s Western in the grand scheme of the theme, which makes it a darned interesting study.  Highly recommended for the adventurous and the “poetic!”

CDs:  $20 plus $1.64 (!) shipping from www.cdbaby.com (search “Michael Hearne”) or direct from Michael Hearne, P.O. Box 2965, Taos, NM 87571

© 2007, Rick Huff

 


Texas Gypsies
Cafe du Swing

Hallmarks of the elite bands who work in the complicated, heady genre known as “Gypsy Swing” include fiery, superb musicianship and a compulsion to recover all-but-lost European Jazz treasures.  We’re talking nuggets from the likes of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grapelli here.  So why are they being reviewed in a Western/Western Swing publication?  Listen to ‘em and find out.

The late lamented Hot Club Of Cowtown (itself named in tribute to the famous Hot Club Of Paris) introduced Western Swing audiences to the effect, and groups like The Texas Gypsies are seeing the vision through.  Better yet, they are building skyscrapers on it.  And the national exposure is coming…the “Gypsies” perform the theme for Fox-TV’s Good Day Show!

The Texas Gypsies also manage to mix in Tex-Mex and some Bob Wills flavor with their Jacques Brel and Charles Aznavour stylings.  This band is further distinguished from their brothers-in-swing by the presence of more originals than most use, some grand scale scoring and a willingness to evenly switch off lead vocals.  Steve Curry (lead guitar/vocals), Mark Menikos (violin…not “fiddle”), John Hewitt (bass/vocals) and Erik Swanson (rhythm guitar/vocals) keep things hopping on their newest release, on which they’re augmented by seven additional musicians (three of whom are drums/percussion)!  Trust me, it’ll move you!  Possibly bounce you happily across the floor….

CDs:  www.cdbaby.com (search Texas Gypsies) for $14.99 CD or MP3 format, also from www.musicishere.com and other online sources. 

© 2007, Rick Huff


Ghosts of Tombstone
Trails & Rails
 

In their earlier identity “Bow Willow” we first met them at the 2002 WMA Festival in Las Vegas and have charted their progress ever since.  These days Trails & Rails performs as a duo (Walt Richards, vocals/banjo/guitar/mandolin and Paula Strong, vocals and rhythm guitar); a trio (adding Bruce Huntington, vocals & upright bass) and…as they jokingly say…a “quatro” (when Ken Wilcox, vocals/guitar/autoharp, comes aboard)!

The title track of their newest (and best) CD release was well received at the Tombstone Western Music Festival in November by the living listeners and the ghostly ones!  This folk-toned California group produces a comfortable, rustic sound that still manages to have a touch of the “singalong” jam feel to it.  Other standout songs include Walt Richards and Les Buffham’s “Thinkin’ About Montana,” the Marvin O’Dell novelty “This Godforsaken Town,” Jane Bowers’ haunting “San Miguel” and Bruce Huntington’s intriguing “Pecos To Pacific” about the little-heralded east to west trail drives!

At this past WMA Festival I finally got to hear the entire Trails & Rails group, so I can say with assurance this CD comes the closest of all their releases to capturing what they have to offer.  If sometime they do a “live” album, that may finish the job.

CDs:  $12.97 ppd through www.cdbaby.com/cd/trailsrails in CD or MP3 format.

© 2007, Rick Huff

 


Cowboy Promises
 Rodger Maxwell
 

There was a famous disagreement between traditional Cowboy Poet and writer Curly Fletcher and Fred Howard & Nat Vincent over “Strawberry Roan.”  The two professional (commercial) songwriters edited the original song and, over Fletcher’s objections, added what they felt was the more “sellable” oh-that-strawberry-roan chorus.  Since Rodger Maxwell is the whole show here, no such argument exists…and his very classic-styled saga songs are allowed to stand on their own merits!

Maxwell is a traditionalist and balladeer who straddles the Folk and Cowboy fences in his writing.  His projected singing style lets you picture him entertaining the hands around the remnants of the evening’s cook fire, and his latest recording definitely has a direct and unprocessed feel.

In considering your purchase of “Cowboy Promises,” you might be even more prompted to do so if I tell you what Rodger’s working title for the project was:  “This Is My Third CD—Please Buy It Or My Wife Will Kill Me!”  Yes, we Western folk can relate…

CDs:  $15 through www.rodgermaxwell.com and www.cdbaby.com (search “Rodger Maxwell”) and phone orders may use 1-800-BUY-MY-CD as well.

© 2007, Rick Huff


Beneath These Western Skies
Judy James
 

In the transition some months back between O.J. Sikes and Yours Truly as reviewers, there was some overlapping “did you do that one, will I do this one” confusion, and in it Ms. James’ pleasant new CD fell prey!  So, let’s make up for lost words.

For her fans the “Lady Balladeer From Texas” finally ropes in another album with this twelve song collection.  Most are contemporary Western songs (Jack Hannah & Kenn Lea’s “When The Coyotes Come Near,” the title track by Larry Hannon, Ian Tyson’s “La Primera,” fellow Texan Gary Prescott’s “Fair Blows The Wind” and others) with some Cowboy standards (“The Wayward Wind” and “Texas Waltz”).  Each is delivered in Judy’s signature throaty, smoothly crooned style.  I was drawn to, and made fairly hungry by, the neat little Greg Brown song called “Canned Goods” that caps the CD.  No, not even Michelina’s TV dinners will ever measure up to ‘em!

Here once again an artist and an album benefits from the unfailingly sure creative hand of one Rich O’Brien.  All in all, this CD is just what Judy’s audience was hungry for!

CDs: $18 ppd from Judy James, P.O. Box 953, Weatherford, TX 76086.  Phone:   (817) 613 9012 and email:  judy@judyjames.com

© 2007, Rick Huff


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Life Is Good
Teresa Kay

Here’s a six-song mini release from a new face and voice at this year’s Western Music Association Festival in Albuquerque.  I watched Nebraska’s Teresa Kay leave an audience awestruck with her performance of this CD’s track “Four Stars.” It’s a tribute song to her four…four…sons who are deployed with branches of the military!  While it’s not specifically Western, the performance of it was indeed a moving moment.

Teresa is not so much a “Cowgirl” singer as she is a singer who incorporates Western material.  The Western-qualifying tracks here include “Looking For A Man,” “Grandpa’s Farm” and technically, I guess, the Nebraska State Song “Beautiful Nebraska!”

Included for variety are a boogie track “It’s My Style” and a soft contemporary love ballad.  All tracks are done with electronic accompaniment, and we certainly will look forward to more output from this new WMA member!

You can also try your hand at some new technology, if you haven’t before.  The songs are available by-the-download.

 Per Song:  99 cents through www.teresakaymusic.com and contact at singnsmile@yahoo.com

© 2007, Rick Huff


Cimarron
Kris Ann Russell

This album is additionally interesting because it is a re-release.  Thoroughly misunderstood by Country Radio music directors in 1997, it was denied its audience.  The bet is that the new crop of Americana and Western listeners will “get” what it is.  I’ll bet they’re right, if it’s given half a chance! 

Kris Ann Russell’s work here deserves attention.  First, she is a quietly and deeply expressive singer, and an equally deep and expressive songwriter.  The album’s instrumentation is predominantly acoustic, but here it’s being handled in a forthrightly modern way.  The standout title track “Cimarron” (not the Johnny Bond song), her haunting “Coyote Run” and the nearly mystical “Where The Roses Bloom” are the outright Western tracks here, but the other songs with them are very listenable.  They include a bluesy trucker track, a novel Country song and some others not so easily labeled.   

So with mellow vocals, guitar, harmonica, fiddle, mandolin…where’s the misunderstanding come??  No drum.  No “formula thinking” either.  Furthermore Western Music’s familiar instruments are played here with that contemporary flair!!  Well, for my money it’s right on the money.  It provides and excellent illustration of Western poetic vision with modern musicality and instincts…which means it was oh-say ten years ahead of its time?!! 

CDs: $15 ppd through www.cdbaby.com (search “Kris Ann Russell”) or contact Rick & Diane Shoudt www.thetalentpool.biz or (505) 269-2180

© 2007, Rick Huff
 


How to Yodel (Lessons to Tickle Your Tonsils)
Wylie Gustafson

Who knows if it’s anatomically possible to teach the yodel and keep the tongue firmly in cheek! But “world famous Yahoo-er” Wylie Gustafson sure is the guy to give ‘er a go. Oh never fear! The real information to get the novice rolling is actually in his book w/CD How To Yodel (Lessons To Tickle Your Tonsils). It’s tucked in around the craziness. In fact, Wylie will make you put the epiglottal pedal to the yodel modal metal here before he’s through!

After the obligatory (and wise) warning about being away from prying ears as you begin, you begin. It’s interesting to note that champion yodeler David Bradley shuns the use of “little old yodel lady” type of words in his instruction videos. Champion yodeler Gustafson let’s the old girl rip…and splashes “idle” into the soup too! Included is everything from proper breathing and warm-ups to showy flourishes designed to dazzle the most jaded yodel judges (a relatively common phenomenon, by the way)! You even get to karaoke-yodel right on some of Wylie’s most famous yodel songs, sans Wylie, and the book is loaded with tidbits, history, help, whereabouts of fellow fanatics and lots of patented Wylie goofiness.

What can we say? It’s actual, it’s factual, it’s wacky, it’s Wylie…it’s worth it!!

Book w/CD: $9.95 USD from Gibbs Smith Publisher, P.O. Box 667, Layton, UT 84041 or www.gibbs-smith.com and $10.00 (watch those nickels) from www.wylieww.com

 © 2007, Rick Huff


Western Moon
Horse Crazy

Fun and Purpose seem to pretty much be the hallmarks of the acoustic female harmony trio Horse Crazy. There’s a sense of both throughout their new CD release Western Moon.

Here radio host & show producer Lauralee Northcott (vocals/bass), Nadine Van Hees (vocals/guitar/fiddle/mandolin) and Emele Clothier (vocals/guitar/harmonica) alternately romp, swing and lilt through the songs. They display an experienced show band’s sensibility in their mix of classics, contemporary Western, originals and tempos as well.

As if they hadn’t done it already, with this CD the ladies of Horse Crazy establish themselves to be in the echelon of female harmony groups like Sisters Of The Silver Sage, Daughters Of The Purple Sage and some that aren’t even in the Sage like Journey West and The Buckarettes. Give it a try. I bet you’ll say it’s a nice listen!

CDs: $15 plus $3 s&h per CD (Washington State add $1.20 tax per CD) from Lauralee Northcott, PO Box 276, Winthrop, WA 98862. Phone (509) 996-2404. Online: www.cdbaby.com or email: clnorthcott@centurytel.net
 


Asphalt Cowboy
Al Mehl

Now here’s something different!! In Al Mehl…songwriter, satirist, poet and keen Western scene observer…we may well have found our genre’s Tom Lehrer! Bet you never knew we were looking for one!

In its own way the output from Mehl may actually be more intricately and adventurously clever than that of the aforementioned piano playing professor. Lehrer went mainly for thoughtful laughs. Mehl isn’t afraid to be thoughtfully serious as well. Describing his humor and observations, Juni Fisher writes “just when you think his fries have been left out of his Happy Meal, he whacks you over the head with a verse that leaves you stunned!” That pretty much says it…except for what Doris Daley has to say, of course. She calls his work “refreshing, original, witty and loaded with clever wordplay about contemporary cowboy life.” Now! That pretty much says it…except we’ve hardly begun!

In a quiet sort of half-sung style, Al Mehl skewers and twists like the rankest bull if the beast had also attended college. He paints poetic pictures that leave you musing as in “That Hat,” “Jupiter and Mars” or “Man Who’s Leavin’ Town,” then throws a handful of hay at you to make sure you’re awake. If you’re not, then comes the whole bale. Try the bale-full “Bring Me A Bud,” “Not From Around Here” or “Two Cowboys,” the world’s most schizophrenically truthful cowboy song!

There’s a unique mind at work here that may be one of a kind in the Western Music arena. If you can keep up, you owe it to yourself to experience it.

CDs: $17 ppd through www.cdbaby.com/cd/almehl or from Al “Doc” Mehl, 5656 Cascade Place, Boulder, CO 80303. For his poetry CD “Cowboy Pottery” look at www.cdbaby.com/cd/almehl2
 


Cowboy Pottery
Al Mehl

A particularly good interpreter, singer-songwriter-poet Al Mehl strikes again…for the first time! That’s because both his music CD and this poetry CD were actually released a while ago, but he hadn’t sent them out for review til now. No need to be shy, Al. We like it!

This one has a different spin on it, I think you’ll agree. It begins with a tongue-in-cheek-to-the-point-you-poke-a-hole-through-it opening, during which he misunderstands the “reason we’re all gathered here” and stumbles into his first verse only to show his actual firm handle on the genre by its end. The perspective is fresh, the imagery is interesting and his original guitar instrumental breaks set up each poem nicely.

I can certainly picture reciters picking up on some of Mehl’s works and object lessons. He addresses the ideas of the inner cowboy (“Houdini”), the have littles helping the have nots (“The Great Depression”), don’t criticize ranchers with your mouth full (“Water”), genes as a cowboy enabler and more…each with thoughtful skill.

Al Mehl is another poet for whom we have Yvonne Hollenbeck to thank, at least in part. And in Mehl’s case, we definitely should.

CDs: $17 ppd through www.cdbaby.com/cd.almehl2 or from Al “Doc” Mehl, 5656 Cascade Place, Boulder, CO 80303

 © 2007, Rick Huff


If I Hadn't Seen the West
Joyce Woodson


She performed at the inaugural WMA Music Festival in Tucson, 1989. Her bio in the program included the following: “(She) has created a new angle on ‘WesternFolk’ music. She explores the subjects and characters of both the old and new West.” Joyce Woodson has remained true to the vision, and remained creatively productive within it. And my-oh-my can she sing what she produces!

Still today the female writers in our genre who create the songs other artists will consistently seek to cover can probably be counted on two hands. Joyce’s “He’s Courtin’ Annie” was picked up years back by Jean Prescott (another of that handful of writers) and other tunes of hers have been recorded and performed as well. But now, enter Joyce Woodson with her first all-Western CD! Guaranteed there are future Western standards here. Now you can say “I heard ‘em when!” And further guaranteed—the CD’s title track is one of them.

Many of the songs are as pristine and mystical as any classic romantic vision of the West you’d care to name. The wistful nature of songs like Dubin & Grosz’s “Along The Santa Fe Trail” or Drake & Wakely’s “Moon Over Montana” is present in Woodson’s “Call Of The Wild,” “Cheyenne” and “If I Hadn’t Seen The West.” The spirit of many of Bob Nolan’s songs lives there too, in Joyce’s “Dawson” and others on the CD.

Joyce Woodson’s “If I Hadn’t Seen The West” is not only a nice, well-produced album. For contemporary acoustic Western Music, it’s also an important one.

CDs: $17 ppd from www.joycewoodson.com (download order form and mail to Joyce Woodson, 32158 Camino Capistrano #366, San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675).


Back to My Boots and Saddle
Barbara Nelson

It’s interesting to hear Western material handled the way Barbara Nelson does it…particularly these days! Swung…jazzy…with the experience-seasoned voice of a Rosemary Clooney or a Jo Stafford or, more to the point, a Dale Evans!

Listening you could easily picture the Republic Pictures studio orchestra playing along with Nelson as she swings breezily through classics like this CD’s title track, “Atcheson Topeka and the Santa Fe,” “Buttons & Bows,” “Abilene,” “Leanin’ On The Old Top Rail” and more Western and pop standards.

Basically it’s a casual approach that’s taken here, at times even taking on kind of a jam session feel as she banters and laughs with her session people. And the complex chords employed are definitely an example of what Rodger Maxwell was illustrating in his 2006 WMA Festival workshop on jazz chords in Western music. Many of the songs here like “Colorado Trail” and “Along The Navajo Trail” take on quite a refreshing new life through their use.

This one is more than worthy of a spin on your deck.

CDs: $15 plus $2.99 s&h from Barbara Nelson, 72521 Tutuilla Creek Rd., Pendleton, OR 97801, or online from www.BarbaraNelsonMusic.com and her other 2007 CD release Blue Shadows on the Trail is also available.
 


Red Lips & Honky Tonks
Jerry Webb


Don’t ya just love what they name these wonderful smoky bar CDs?? Something tells me we’re never going to see one called “Lovely Pastoral Scene & Honky Tonks!!!”

Once again a veteran of the HT wars shows his wares. This time it’s Jerry Webb, and on this rowdy release he really delivers the goods. The classic Texas style of Country and Western Swing is what you get all the way.

The twelve tracks were either written or published by Webb and check out the musicians he’s gathered! Along with harmony from Michael Webb and Jerry Vaughn, alternately you’ll hear Mark Abbott (upright bass) or Ron Jones (bass guitar), Gary Carpenter (steel/dobro), Wayne Bennett or Derrick Spiegner (drums), Dale Morris or Steve Solomon (fiddle), Chip Bricker or Chris Booher (piano), Willie Glover (telecaster guitar), Tommy Nash (guitar) and producer Carl Vaughn (no guitar slouch himself). The combined assemblage makes this collection exactly what the fans crave. Belly up to the bar, folks! Jerry’s pourin’!

CDs: $15 USD ppd (Texas residents add 8.25% sales tax) through www.jerrywebbmusic.com or from Jerry Webb, P.O. Box 1351, Weatherford, TX 76086 Phone: (817) 594-9963.


Yondering— Songs of the American West
Rich Flanders

 

Interesting name, and it fits. Interesting talent, and he fits too.

Rich Flanders does what the great Robert Wagoner has done for many years…namely, he multi-tracks his own harmonies. Flanders does it very nicely, too. He doesn’t just render these classic Bob Nolan, Stan Jones, Marty Robbins, Eliot Daniel/Johnny Lange or Lionel Newman/Ken Darby songs. He interprets them, he acts them. And he makes you really feel them as dramatic works. This becomes apparent and very welcome on a song that’s been hammered as often as “(Ghost) Riders In The Sky.” He seems to mean it when he describes it. Also outstanding are Flanders’ treatments of “Trees” and “Sierra Nevada,” but all 16 tracks are superb.

Musically, the overall effect is a mellow Sons of the Pioneers-style trip down memory lane. None do it any better than this cowboy from New York! Vocally, you hear a bit of “Ukelele Ike” Edwards at times, some Rusty Richards at others, but he’s not a copy of either or anyone else. Within a very traditional framing you still hear intelligent invention. It makes this CD a living argument for classic Golden Era Western being viable, alive and well.

For what it’s worth, this one gets a nod from me for WMA or AWA nominations for Western Male Vocalist and Traditional Western album. Truly special.

CDs: $16 ppd online from www.cdbaby/cd/richflanders or contact Rich Flanders, 374 County Highway 48, Thompson Ridge, NY 10985 email: rflanders@citilink.net


Standing Tall in the Shadows (Memoirs of a Hollywood Manager)
Dick Baxter



As its author says of it, “this is no ‘Hollywood’ book!”

Dick Baxter served as the personal career manager to a number of film and Western Music notables. More than that, they were his family of friends to whom he remains staunchly true. So this tribute to them isn’t a tell-all book…just a “tell-enough” one!

Over various years Dale Evans, Stuart Hamblen, Hi Busse with his Frontiersmen & Joanie, Joanie Hall as a solo and Dusty Rogers benefited from associating with “the man in the shadows!” Other clients included are actresses Katherine Grayson, June Wade, Catherine McLeod and Gloria Jean, actors Bill Erwin and Ken Edwards, gospel singer Peggy Coburn and international singing star Anacani (known in the US mainly for the “Lawrence Welk Show”). All are fondly remembered and chatted about. Lots of never before published photos of the stars are here along with Baxter’s family shots. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should admit I contributed information on Hi Busse who was my friend and mentor in the Western Music field.

As seems to frequently be the case with boutique publishers, some typos and misprints managed to slip through that might be caught and corrected in future printings, but it shouldn’t deter you from savoring this quiet but important and unique addition to the history of Western Music. Of it, one reader reportedly glowed and said the book sent her back to a time and place she really liked to be. We can certainly second that!

$20 plus $4.50 s&h from BearManor Media, P.O. Box 71426, Albany, GA 31798 www.BearManorMedia.com

 


Trail Songs & Campfire Ballads
Pat Meade


In this CD Pat Meade gives us a strong entry in the rustic style of Western with good harmonies, a sweet feeling and a comfortable flow. There is also a fair share of religious content.

Meade has picked his material well as several of the songs featured are nicely suited to an older seasoned Cowboy voice. There are three fine Les Buffham collaborations included (“The Belle Of The Ball,” “Just An Old Cowboy” and “Hear ‘Em Cry Cowboy”). There are some other very good originals, most notably from Terry Smith (“Modern Day Cowboys,” “Don’t Let Me Hit It Too Hard”…a lighthearted talk with one cowboy’s lord…and “Willie,” a great ‘coosie’ song).

In the spirit of stemming misinformation, “Red River Valley” is credited in the notes as being written by Marty Robbins, and the late Billy Walker is also incorrectly credited as having written “Cross The Brazos At Waco.”

Crediting notwithstanding and giving credit where credit is due, it’s a nicely produced CD and Pat Meade delivers this material well.

CDs: $17 ppd from Pat Meade, 16487 Stone St., Milo, Iowa 50166 phone: (641) 466-3512 email: pmeade@iowatelecom.net

 

The Heart of Texas Records Catalog
(various artists)
 

If anybody thinks nobody records ‘em like they used to, they should think again…and look into the Heart of Texas records catalog!! They’re playing your song!

Most of it arrived on our doorstep in one mind blowing shipment of bodacious Texas Honky Tonk, Western Swing and Country! The real thing…definitely not the Nashville “crass!” We’ll do our best to hit some high points, but there are so many!! It should be obvious, though, just why owner Tracy Pitcox snapped up the AWA’s Will Rogers Award as “Producer of the Year!”

First let’s clearly state that there isn’t a misfire in the bunch. A number of the releases share elements in common that provide a particular unusual result. Because a basic core Justin Trevino Studio “house band” of sorts (made up of top practitioners of the Swing arts) was employed on several of the Heart Of Texas releases, by playing them back to back you wind up experiencing a virtual Swing Festival with vocalists stepping up to do “sets” in front of a single band! It’s not a negative effect with musicians of this caliber, but it is the effect, nonetheless. Trevino himself, Bobby Flores, Dicky Overbey, Jim Lossberg, Jake Hooker, Ron Huckabee, Levi Mullen, Floyd Domino, Rick Price, John “Smiley” Reynolds and the like participated. CDs in this particular group include a couple from a more recent star on the horizon Amber Digby (a Honky Tonk belter with the best of them), Leona Williams (stronger than ever, with her late husband Dave Kirby playing on some of the tracks), ‘Pretty Miss’ Norma Jean (sounding possibly better than ever with Wanda Jackson guesting…also in excellent voice), Texas favorite Darrell McCall, "The Blackland Farmer" himself Frankie Miller and a team-up of Johnny Bush and Justin Trevino. In a minute we’ll single out those latter three among others we’ll focus on for their historic value as well as performance merits.

CDs: All Heart Of Texas releases are $13.95 w/free US shipping (outside add $5).
Heart Of Texas Records, 1701 South Bridge, Brady, TX 76825
Phone (325) 597-1895
Available online at www.heartoftexascountry.com & www.hillbillyhits.com and “stores that sell Traditional Country Music!”



  1) Floyd Tillman, The Influence
For this project, the 87-year-old songwriting phenomenon was encouraged by his friend Tracy Pitcox to step to the microphone for a final time, laying down guest “duet” versions of fourteen of his famous and favorite songs. The outpouring of affection and enthusiasm from those who participated (just a few of the many who came up in the business with “the influence” of Tillman) is infectious and evident throughout the recording. Heard in the collection are Dolly Parton, Mel Tillis, Ray Price, George Jones, Connie Smith, Willie Nelson, Hank Thompson, Merle Haggard, Darrell McCall, Leona Williams, Johnny Bush, Justin Trevino, Frankie Miller and Lawton Williams. No, Floyd was no longer in top form, his trademark vocal swooping occasionally coming off as more of a search for the note. Here it simply doesn’t matter. Although he got to hear an early mix, Tillman had passed on before the CD’s release. So each song now serves as a loving farewell to a mentoring grand master. The whole thing brings chills. (ordering info above)


  2) Ferlin HuskyThe Way It Was
He had decided to retire from recording before Heart Of Texas president Tracy Pitcox coaxed him back. Now in his 80s but still formidable, Ferlin Husky retains enough of his vocal prowess to sell these songs well and inspire sweet nostalgia among his fans! His “Simon Crum” character makes an endearing reappearance, serving to remind us exactly where Jim Nabors found his “Gomer Pyle.” The great Leona Williams guests on two of the tracks and she and Ferlin shine brightly on them…particularly on “As Long As I Live.” Speaking of Leona, let’s!! (ordering info above)


      3) Leona Williams, San Quentin’s First Lady, Honorary Texan and I Love You Because
In a way, Leona’s CDs with Heart Of Texas cover the development and, in her case, the vocally enriching career of an artist! The “live” San Quentin performance with Merle Haggard’s Strangers shows the 1971 Leona…wildly embraced by the inmates and being paid what she would later learn was the ultimate compliment. They wouldn’t let her leave the stage. She had remained vocally strong and her newest efforts show her to still be “on” the hill, not over it and certainly not going downhill! All three albums are Honky Tonk and true Country jewels! (ordering info above)


4) "Pretty Miss" Norma Jean, Loneliest Star in Texas
Lonely?? Not with all these folks willing to perform with her! Tracy Pitcox and Justin Trevino assembled the previously mentioned band along with Wanda Jackson and Amber Digby for this CD and the result is top-drawer. Fans in Branson have been able to see for themselves that Dolly’s precursor with Porter Wagoner has lost none of her lustre, vocally or really even physically. This is a wonderful return to the recording spotlight by another artist who never should have been forced to leave it. (ordering info above)


  5) Johnny Bush & Justin Trevino, Texas On A Saturday Night
The impact for listeners of this recording event will be secondary only to what it meant to its participants. Johnny has been a musical inspiration to Justin from early in his life. Getting the chance to work creatively with Bush meant the world to the acclaimed new guard Honky Tonker, and the feeling wound up being mutual. They give it their all in a rousing dance through Texas you’ll play many more times than once. (ordering info above)


  6) Curtis Potter, Chicago Dancin’ Girls and Them Old Honky Tonks
With musicians like the late Dave Kirby, Buddy Emmons, Jimmy Capps, David Smith, Kenny Malone, Rob Hajacos, Hank Singer and Bunky Keels backing you under the meticulous guidance of Justin Trevino and Kevin McManus in the recording booth, nearly anyone would be 90% of the way home to a masterwork! Put living legend Curtis Potter on vocals and no more needs to be said. These two Heart Of Texas Potter releases are must-haves. (ordering info above)

Owner-Producer Tracy Pitcox’s library of releases is growing and deservedly so. With the attention to true Country, Western Swing and Honky Tonk detail that’s being paid over at Heart Of Texas Records, it’s finally safe to say somebody’s makin’ ‘em like they used to!


To Be a Top Hand
Georgie Sicking

At long last comes an album from one of the genuine legends of Cowboy Poetry Georgie Sicking!  Be it Elko, Prescott or any other poetry venue, this lady is considered to be royalty in the field…in more ways than one!

Georgie has been honored by the Nevada Cattleman’s Association for having spent “100,000 Miles In The Saddle,” and since 1989 has been in the National Cowgirl Hall Of Fame.  We don’t mean “cowgirl” in the sense you might think.  This lady is a ropin,’ drag-the-calves-to-the-fire, fence mendin’ cattle doctorin’ cowboy cowgirl.  She’s done what a good number of the guys haven’t done--she also got married and gave birth to kids!  But like Georgie’s poem “Housewife” says, she’s been “a rancher’s daughter and a rancher’s spouse but she’s never been married to a rancher’s house!!”

Once she was convinced the time was right…or however it happened…she got in, got ‘em laid down in one pass with no retakes like she’d do onstage or in the cowcamp and got the heck back to work!  On this CD you’ll meet cow dogs and horses (“Old Tuff” and “Blaze”), good friends and inspirations (“Jake” and “Laura”), what was cowboyin’ (as in “The Greatest Sport”) and cowboyin’ that still is (like the title track), wistful words in “Going Back” and some warm laughs, too.

The album is short (sixteen poems in about twenty minutes) but you won’t feel shortchanged.  Generally a well-chosen couple of words from Georgie are worth ten to twelve from some poets!  The verse is tastefully enhanced with light sound effects and musical intros and outros by producer/poet Andy Nelson, to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude for managing to finally drag this bawling heifer to the recording fire!!!

CDs:  $18 ppd from Georgie Sicking, P.O. Box 11, Kaycee, WY 82639

 © 2007, Rick Huff

 


Every Horse I Ever Rode
Kevin Davis

When the new Kevin Davis CD arrived, before taking off the cellophane I said to myself “this will be a good one!”  It is.  For here we have one of the best, honest, no-copy-of-anybody Cowboy singers you’re going to find.  Then I thought “I’ll bet there’ll be some Luke Reed songs on this album like he had on his first one!”  There are.  The CD title track should have been a giveaway!  In addition to it, here also are Luke’s “Adobe Walls” and “Banks of Red River,” and they’re shown off to good advantage as well.  Then I looked more closely.  Heck, no wonder!  Luke Reed produced this one too!!

What an ensemble of players have come together here!!  Ginny Mac (accordion), Randy Elmore (fiddle), Tommy Nash (guitar), Dave Alexander (trumpet), Maurice Anderson (steel), Chris Booher (piano), Ronnie Ellis (bass) and Paul Layman (drums) with Luke himself and Adrian Bellis on harmony vocals!  With the presence of so many noted swing players, you’d think more tracks would feature that tempo. But the two songs that do…Red Steagall’s “Underneath A Wide West Texas Sky” and Kevin’s own “Bronc Ridin’ Friend”…swing profoundly!  Three other fine Kevin Davis originals here are definite candidates to be picked up by others.  Pick up this CD for yourself.  You won’t regret it!

CDs:  $15 plus $1.50 s/h to Kevin Davis, P.O. Box 131, Walters, OK 73572

 © 2007, Rick Huff


What A Man's Got To Do
Brenn Hill

In a way, Brenn Hill served notice with his last CD outing Endangered.  The plan was designed to win him a place on the more rockish (or at least contemporary) “Texas Music” and “Americana” charts.  The plan worked…letting him also haul a wagonload of true contemporary Western Music onto people’s CD players as well. That program is fully realized on his new album What A Man’s Got To Do

The Texas Music-styled songs include “Meet Me In McCall,” “Sweetwater Beach,” “Caffeine,” “She Loves Me Anyway,” “Debt” and “Gaping Jaws Of Hell” (the latter two both having distinctly Western subjects despite the treatments).  His gifts to the Western Music library this time around are the outstanding saga song “Ballad Of Buffalo Brogan.” “Jeremiah’s Last Ride,” “Oakbrush,” the rodeo rider title track “What A Man’s Got To Do,” a cowboy-up lesson called “Into The Wind” and an eerily effective peon to a pair of felled lawmen entitled “Ballad Of Pogue & Elms.”

Nobody working in the contemporary Western genre does this balancing bar routine any better than Brenn Hill.  His name is getting known, but he’s still kind of Western Music’s too-well-kept secret.  I’ve got my own theory of how to get him “discovered.”  He’s got a number of fine albums under his belt…like Chris LeDoux had.  But what he hasn’t had is a “Garth Brooks” to sing about him.  Remember Garth’s song with the line “a worn out tape of Chris LeDoux” that sent the public running to Chris?  Y’suppose we could get Kenny Chesney to sing “I put it on, I play it still, that old CD I got of Brenn Hill??!!”

CDs:  (contact for info)  www.brennhill.com email bferriman@brennhill.com or contact Red Cliffs Press, 205 Powell Place, Suite 214, Brentwood, TN 37027  (615) 369-0810

 © 2007, Rick Huff


Montana Legacy
Sandy Seaton

Here we find intelligent variety of content, with appropriate balance in the musical backing and effects texturing.  Heady enough for you?  Well, we’re in the high country!

Sandy Seaton’s Montana Legacy deals with the larger Western picture and the ways she and her family fit into it through their lives, through legends and doin’s, with a departure or two (like “Hangin’ Out”)!  Her delivery rings true and there’s even some authentic grit there, too. 

Seaton’s “Horse Trading 101” gives you a good idea of what happens when your bargain-buy horse turns into a money pet.  Her “Mountain Madness” paints a frightful portrait of the Morgan Family’s introduction to uncharted land.  Another of the poems here haunts you with the historic fate of the real Cattle Kate. 

Fragments of some well-known songs are sung by Ms. Seaton as intros to related poems.  It’s an interesting device, although I’m not convinced the lyrics of “Night Rider’s Lament” had to be altered to the extent they were here to make the point.  It’s a minor detraction, at best.  The CD makes a fine entry and statement in the library of Cowboy/Cowgirl Poetry.

CDs:  $15 plus $2 s/h to Sandy Seaton Sallee, P.O. Box 117, Emigrant, MT. 59027 www.blackmountainoutfitters.com  email:  BlackMtn2@aol.com

 © 2007, Rick Huff

 


Warehouse Tracks 1996-2006

various artists

Now here’s something you don’t get everyday…not even every ten years from most outfits!  But there aren’t many outfits like Western Jubilee Recording!

The “warehouse” in the title refers to Scott O’Malley’s wonderful WJR Studio in Colorado Springs, where so many fabulous Western recordings have been created.  And some of the least publicized concerts in the world for friends of the artists have been held in the intimate theater setting of that studio.  Now, for the first time, we’re all invited!!

In “live” recordings made there across ten tears, you’ll hear Norman & Nancy Blake, Bryan Bowers, Cowboy Celtic, Don Edwards (first to ever play there), Juni Fisher, Skip Gorman, R.W. Hampton, Jim Ibbotson, John McEuen, Waddie Mitchell, Katy Moffat, Rich O’Brien, Peter Rowan, Sons Of The San Joaquin and Wylie & The Wild West!  How’s that for a hand to draw to??!!

The intimate effect of these tracks is the closest most of us will come to having these artists sitting beside us in the living room.  In the words of that orange juice ad, it’s “simply unfooled around with!”  The circumstances in which these pure, non-processed performances were rendered and the electricity of the private audiences make this a rare experience in acoustic music let alone Western!  Obviously, it’s a must-have.  More than that…you’re certifiably nuts if you miss getting it!!  A final thing--Western Jubilee Warehouse Concerts are available at www.CowboysInTheSky.com (or as WJR’s Scott O’Malley slyly adds, “have your kids show you how it works!”)

CDs:  $15 plus $3 s/h to Western Jubilee Recording Company, P.O.Box 9187, Colorado Springs, CO  80932, order toll-free at 1 (800) 707-2353  or online (with free shipping on orders over $50) at www.westernjubilee.com  email: onthetrail@westernjubilee.com 

 © 2007, Rick Huff

 


She Rode a Wild Horse
Susan Parker

Susan Parker is a pleasant reader who freely admits she’s an admirer of (rather than an active practitioner of) the cowboyin’ trade. 

Although she does write some of her own material, Parker elects to leave the writing of specific cowboy visions to those who were, and are, cowboys.  Six of the fourteen poems are originals, principally showcased in this CD collection are contemporary Western viewpoints from Virginia Bennett, Dee Strickland Johnson, Sally Bates and Elizabeth Ebert, with classics from S. Omar Barker, Henry Herbert Knibbs and Will Ogilvie. 

A Sally Bates poem Parker offers contains an interesting point for further discussion:  If we’re going to call them “cowgirls” when they ride, ‘better call the guys “bullboys” and get the gender right!  Parker’s title poem “She Rode A Wild Horse” refers to a then-young Karuk Indian girl named Betty Robinson Stillwell, who once accidentally mounted a wild pony and stayed aboard, tamed it, and became widely known for the feat. The CD bearing the title is surely a much easier ride!

CDs:  $18 ppd to Dancing Hearts Music, P.O. Box 865, Benecia, CA 94510 (707) 745-3768  www.susanparkerpoet.com  

 © 2007, Rick Huff


Trail Mix

Diane Tribitt
 

In a way this CD from self-billed “Minnesota Cowgirl Poet & Entertainer” Diane Tribitt might serve as an introduction to Cowboy Poetry as well as its intended purpose--that of being a promotional CD for Trail Mix, the book.

Tribitt has taken the unusual step of actually presenting an intensely personal background essay on why she does what she does and what Cowboy Poetry is on the first two tracks of the CD.  She has a softly commanding delivery of her words and there is light musical accompaniment.  I never envisioned hearing Cowboy Poetry done to “House Of The Rising Sun,” but it’s all a discovery process, isn’t it??!!  Those seeking a religious thread will also find that here.

The CD closes with Will Dudley performing his fine song “One Coyote Howling At The Moon.”  In a number of ways, it’s a unique and affordable offering.  One is tempted to suspect in Diane Tribitt is a voice with plenty to say.

CDs:  $11 ppd from www.diantetribitt.com or by phone toll free 1 (888) 410-7774  email:  tribitt@brainerd.net or contact 38034 193rd Street, Hillman, MN 56338.

 © 2007, Rick Huff


Spreadin’ Sunshine
Sam DeLeeuw

One of the better writer/interpreters from the Cowgirl perspective Sam DeLeeuw (DEE-Loo…Dutch for “the lion”) roars in with her premiere CD Spreadin’ Sunshine! And spread it she does with these stories and scenes painted in rhyme. 

DeLeeuw “talks” in verse about the daily trails and tribs of the cowboying day, throws in some tall tales and gentle portraits of lives ending and changing times.  Many of the tales told here are textured with the kind of detail that makes them well suited for repeated hearings.  Included are sly pokes like “Cricket Roundup,” broadsides like “Hilda’s Bloomers,” thoughtful stories and scenes in “Shadows” and “Don’t Weep For Me”…and then there’s the title piece, wherein she deftly vocalizes the arrival of a small sports car with eerie accuracy!

You will encounter a  repeating theme or two (wives pulling more than their weight in the ranch muck beside their oblivious cowboy hubbies is one, Wrangler butts is another).  And a small technical point—I found the poems to be backed up just a little tightly against each other on the CD.  Just a bit more “reflection space” would have been welcome. Overall, though, this recorded collection is a nice first shot out of the chute!

CDs:  $18 ppd from Sam DeLeeuw, 510  West 500 south, Manti, Utah 84642  (435) 851-0852    

 © 2007, Rick Huff


The Last Of The Border Cowboys

Gil Prather

When certain “name” artists release those infrequent albums of theirs, it always makes those in the know sit up and take notice.  Attention, those in the know!  Gil Prather has a new one out!!

Coming from the award winning writer of such gems as “I’ll Be Back In Texas By The Fall” and “Seven Days From Musquiz,” Prather’s new collection is called The Last Of The Border Cowboys and is sort of redundantly subtitled “The Best Of Gil Prather.”  The redundancy comes from the fact that this legendary writer/singer gives you nothing-but!!!  But, yes, with the exception of his singles “Rio Grande Sand,” “Professional Fool” and “Busted Out In A Border,” it is a collection of his most requested songs—a total of fifteen tracks.  It also could be considered a primer from “Professor” Prather to up and coming writers on how they can vary their creations and still hold absolutely true to the Western genre.     

Lord but it’s fun to hear a master go through his paces!  Prather is comfortable working true Western Music and relevant cowboy themes into so many different styles.  From heartfelt Western ballads to Honky Tonk & Country styling, Conjunto & Mariachi, Western Swing & Jazz Vamp, Pop Folk ala John Hartford, Novelty…it runs the gamut!

A few budgetary restrictions no doubt let a couple of synthesized trumpets and string sections in the door, but what the heck!  We more than get the point.  Gil Prather writes rings around most and sings right fine, too…so just pipe down and stick it in your deck!!! 

CDs:  $15 ppd online from www.backfortybunkhouse.com and the same from West Texas Country, 1400 Benton, Big Spring, TX 79720 website: www.gilprather.com

 © 2007, Rick Huff

Legendary Conversations
Tracy Pitcox

 

Here is a library “must” for fans of real country.  You remember real Country…that stuff they made before the Rock landed on Nashville??! 

Tracy Pitcox (longtime KNEL deejay and recent recipient of the Academy Of Western Artists’ Will Rogers Award for “Producer of the Year”) has culled interviews and made transcripts of twenty years worth of chats he’s had with Western Swing, Traditional Country and Bluegrass artists and other notables—a number of whom are no longer with us.  Depending on who’s doing the talking, the entries alternately convert the book from a music business primer to “a look inside,” from a neighborly visit to a fond memory.

In his forward Pitcox freely admits some of the pieces are more in-depth than others.  It isn’t that the interviews are all that probing or incendiary.  They were never intended to be much more than career trackings, but that shouldn’t imply there are no strong interest points here!  In particular, Pitcox’s frank personal insights at the end of each chapter and at other points throughout the book provide nice meat on the bones of history.

The easy to handle lengths of the transcripts make this an interestingly convenient volume.  What do I mean?  It’s a great “bathroom” book!!  Ok, a “nightstand” read, too.  Pick it up.  You may find it tough to put down!

Price:  $13.95 w/free shipping in the US, outside add $5.  Available from Heart Of Texas Country Music Association, 1701 South Bridge, Brady, TX 76825   (325) 597-1895  Email:  tracy@hillbillyhits.com     

 © 2007, Rick Huff


Back On The Dusty Trail
Lone Prairie

Regardless of what the calendar says, every now and then in the mail you get a present.  It comes as a surprise, it’s a delight and it’s exciting.  The latest example of this to come my way is Back On The Dusty Trail, the long-awaited second CD from one of the best retro Western Harmony groups working…Lone Prairie!

Beyond leader Jack Sadler’s vocal similarity to Bob Nolan on the seven “Pioneers” tracks included here, the classic arrangements and spirit of fun in rendering them are intact as well!  On the newer songs the leads are turned over to Paul King (who also wrote the album’s very nice title track “Back On The Dusty Trail”) and Karen Quick (on “Girl From The Rose Saloon”).  Those occasions give the group a different but equally fine sound. 

The next to highest compliment I can pay this effort is:  I didn’t think anyone could show me anything new with “Milk Cow Blues.”  Something about Lone Prairie’s take on it made me smile and discover the old warhorse all over again!!  And here’s the top compliment I can give this or just about any other CD:  This Lone Prairie album is as good as their first one.  Corral it for sure!

CDs: $15 plus $2 s/h to Lone Prairie, 505 Laverne Ave., Aptos, California 95003   (831) 662-3749  www.loneprairieband.com

 © 2007, Rick Huff

A Country Kid Looks Back
Monty Moncrief Teel

If Cowboy Poetry with high production value is your cup of tea (or pot of Arbuckles) A Country Kid Looks Back may be your brew!

Co-authored (with one exception) by performer Monty Moncreif Teel and James Terry, the tracks are introduced and shown to be mostly direct extensions or portraits of Teel’s family and experience.  He also mentions at one point that Waddie Mitchell was an influence.  Well, the dazzling musical ensemble on this CD is certainly reminiscent of Waddie’s more fleshed out recordings! 

The CD is co-produced by Asleep At The Wheel’s Chris Booher, who also contributes guitar, keyboard and fiddle work to the project.  Here also are Ginny Mac (accordion), Dave Alexander (trumpet), Devon Dawson (rhythm guitar), “Chuckwagon Chuck” Dawson (harmonica) and Brook Wallace (fiddle).  In other words, Grammy winners, AWA winners, WMA winners, three Hall Of Fame inductees and two World Champion fiddlers!  So not surprisingly, the music is very much an equal partner here as it illustrates, enhances and supports the verse, which is delivered by Teel in a grand, Texas “bigger than the room” manner.  At twenty eight tracks with intros all underscored with music it’s a big production, and it should please Texas core-value listeners in particular.

CDs:  $20 ppd from Monty Moncrief Teel, P.O. Box 992, Euless, TX 76039 or call (817) 358-8970 or buy online at www.montymoncriefteel.com

© 2007, Rick Huff


Window Of Memories
Marci Broyhill

For Marci Broyhill’s debut CD, she has picked the self-descriptive phrase “Prairie Poet” to categorize what she presents.  It’s fitting, since that’s really a bit more of what she is.

A teacher by profession, Broyhill presents memories, views and comments on aspects of rural living.  Much of it seems like life that is being lived, or has been lived, just about anywhere.  There is a commonality of experience put forth.  She delivers much of her material in a precisely uttered, multi-voiced “acted” style that may make the poems very accessible for children.

Some of Broyhill’s poems are tough minded, such as her condemnation of pet abandonment “Default On Trust” and the subject of living with terminal illness in “Portrait Of Courage.”  And maybe it stems from being a teacher, but she’s not afraid to experiment.  One such venture is “Auctioneer Rap,” delivered in Rap rhythm (without the mouth sound beat) to equate it to the auction call itself.  She has also included free verse in the Zarzyski tradition.

It will be interesting to see how Marci Broyhill develops as a performing poet and the choices she will make.  Yvonne Hollenbeck is one “mentor” who has given her a leg up into this form of writing, so it seems she’s hangin’ with the right crowd!

CDs:  $15 ppd from www.backfortybunkhouse.com or contact Marci Broyhill,  P.O.Box 648, Dakota City, NE 68731
phone (402) 987-3413 or email  marci@marcibroyhill.com website: www.marcibroyhill.com

© 2007, Rick Huff

 
Here Comes A Change
Jim Garling

Ok, I’m running the risk of mixing music types, but every now and then a CD of Western Music or Western Swing arrives that gets me “jazzed!”  Such CDs have some other intangible something that works on level after level.  Jim Garling’s second CD release Here Comes A Change is one of them.  “Here Comes A Change” indeed!!

 It isn’t mega-processed.  It isn’t “showy.”  It’s just right!  Garling has a basic vocal timbre somewhere between Mike Fleming (former lead of New West) and Dave Stamey, in a slightly elder form.  Part of the rightness comes from those who surround him.  Three separate performing teams have joined to create this swinging little gem:  Garling’s own Sons Of The Range (also featuring Richard Sharp and Terry Scarberry), the twin fiddles of Bluegrass greats Byron Berline and Greg Burgess and the female harmony trio Journey West (comprised of Dawn Pett, Audrey McLaughlin and Gale Rogers).  Garling mentions in his notes that he connected with that latter group at a WMA Festival in Albuquerque.  If pairings like this happen at such shows, we’ve got to have more of them!

The best cover yet of R. W. Hampton’s “Travelin’ Light” is here (and it alone is worth the price of admission), there are classics like “Sugar Moon,” “Dear Old Western Skies,” “Right Or Wrong” and more…plus three good Garling originals for a total of twelve tracks in all.  This one’s a keeper!

CDs:  $ 17 ppd from Jim Garling, 6906 Bill Doolin Trail, Guthrie, OK 73044  (405) 306-4182 or www.CowboyJimGarling.com

© 2007, Rick Huff

JB the circle
J. B. Allen's poetry, edited by Duward Campbell and Chuck Milner
 

 

Gotta admire their pluck! 

Although they were able to begin the assembly of the book JB-The Circle with the author before his passing, Duward Campbell and singer/poet Chuck Milner had to complete it after sifting through the “files” of J. B. Allen, the late legend of contemporary Cowboy Poetry.  It was no easy task on their parts to bring us this final offering that includes many of Allen’s unknown and newer works.  They had to deal with grouping of the random subjects, J. B.’s dialect spelling (speaking style of the cowboys), his sort-of-like typing and spidery penmanship to boot!  Picture the proofreading job…wondering if certain things were errors or not!  Mr. Campbell admits several got in, but you might be hard pressed to recognize them!!

Thankfully what you find first is a compendium of observations, speculations, brilliance and tributes by J. B. about others, and others about him.  You also find poem after poem that will surely be picked up and delivered from now on by performers at Elko, Prescott and other events and campfires.  If the one entitled “Consequence” isn’t among them, I’ll eat this critique!  It’s pure, piss-elegant J. B.!

Here was a solid voice and presence for being and doing The Real Thing.  At once J. B. Allen could be difficult to “read” and as easy to figure as an evening ride on a favorite horse.  But as far as I’m concerned editors Campbell and Milner managed to cast their loop around the poem that contains the ultimate life advice and portrait of J. B., rendered by the man himself.  It’s the final stanza from “The Enemy Within:”

                                    “Give ‘er hell while you’re here
                                    And given the chance
                                    To strengthen your corner of earth
                                    Leavin’ fam’ly and friends
                                    And some enemies too
                                    The wealth of your infinite worth.”

Available for $25 postpaid from Dry Camp Press (Duward Campbell), 2515 Second Street, Lubbock, TX 79415.  Phone (806) 762-2343 or (806) 777-6303, email duwardc@yahoo.com

 © 2007, Rick Huff

 

Ride Back in Time
Joe Bethancourt

A traditionalist’s tour de force is the new CD from Arizona balladeer Joe Bethancourt, on which he plays a multitude of acoustic instruments.   

The songs range from the expected Western to a little folk, some novelties and…“We’ll Meet Again”…whichever category you’d assign to that one! Frequently there’s strong originality here, such as in his treatment of “Rye Whiskey” (done with a mouthharp and without tempo) leaving you feeling, in Bethancourt’s words, “cosmically, righteously and spectacularly drunk!”  Or his “Better Quit Kickin’ My Dawg Around” that sounds like it could have come straight from the Cowboy Nation guys.

The album is nicely annotated providing personal and historical context for the songs, and all of it bears the stamp, or the smack, or the butt kick of authenticity.  Also included is some of the most, uh, “interesting” Arizona biological history you’ll ever come across.  Warning, kids!  Don’t use these facts on a term paper or they may try to institutionalize you!  CDs $16 ppd from White Tree Productions, P.O. Box 35190, Phoenix, AZ 85069 www.whitetreeaz.com phone (602) 695-3338.

 © 2007, Rick Huff

 

Back In The Good Old Days
Joe Green

Joe Baker over at Back Forty Bunkhouse Productions has sent me a lot of fine music, and this time he’s sent one containing more than the usual number of original ideas.

Get this: Thirteen (actually fourteen) tracks including Genuine Western, along with Honky Tonk, Jazz and Tex Mex all SWUNG…with minimal processing for a nice intimate sound…by Nashville writer and session player Joe Green!  Oh it gets more original than that.  There’s even some Cowboy Poetry here, too! 

The instrumentation is light acoustic with some steel where appropriate. A guy’s gotta be pretty smart to put this together.  As the liner notes affirm, Green has B.S. and M.Ed. degrees along with a Ph.D., “but it don’t show!”  Part of the instant approachability here comes from his gently Willie Nelson-toned voice (he even faintly resembles The Bard of the Pedernales)!  There’s plenty to like and to dance to in the CD.  Green’s “Workin’ On The Rig,” “Big Thicket Down Home Blues” and “I Feel Like One Now” are surefire crowd pleasers among his other fine originals.  And one impressive track (“The Veteran’s Picnic”) really sneaked up on me.  I was into the party feeling before I realized the guys around me were homeless!

The aforementioned fourteenth track is a more Country electrified guitar take of the album’s Western title track.  I guess being in Nashville they figured if they didn’t put some in, they could get expelled!  Good one.  CDs:  $15 ppd from www.backfortybunkhouse.com  Website: www.tengallonrecords.com

© 2007, Rick Huff

 


 

The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Two
CowboyPoetry.com

"For fans, poets, reciters and reviewers this second edition of The Bar D Roundup (issued in honor of Cowboy Poetry Week within National Poetry Month) is a treasury in every sense of that word.  The “rhyming” word, specifically!

"What a joy it was to hear Badger Clark himself from the early 1950s rendering his first published poem “Ridin,’” which Don Edwards and more recently Barry Hertz put to music.  For a little nuttiness, they’ve thrown in the likes of Pat Richardson and DW Groethe.  Performers can benefit from closely studying the natural, storytelling style of the late Sunny Hancock spinning off “The Horse Trade,” Joel Nelson’s modern classic “Breaker In The Pen,” Jay Snider impeccably delivering his “Tyrone & Tyree” and so many more.  And if poets need any further reminding of how it should be done, here too are those words from Bruce Kiskaddon, Gail Gardner, S. Omar Barker and others.

"For those interested in…or those who think they might like to investigate…this international phenomenon called “Cowboy Poetry,” here’s your next Must-Hear primer. The first one, of course, was last year’s edition!  Both are available:  $20 postage paid from www.cowboypoetry.com.

© 2007, Rick Huff

Read more about The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Two here.

 

 

Full Nelson Shoeing
Andy Nelson

At his wooly wacky best, Andy Nelson is Cowboy Poetry’s gift to cross country truckers everywhere! At his Cowboy best, he’s as good as it gets in getting his heartfelt message across. On his CD, Full Nelson Shoeing. Andy Nelson once again manages to best himself at both!

The poem from which the album draws its name may be seen as ad copy to speed the Nelson Brothers’ fleeing customer, but in it you find that humor of sudden, unexpected truth…and Truth certainly is the subject here. He gets down in it, so to speak, with “Contents Under Pressure” (the living embodiment of S**t Happens!) Then he takes farrier-fired jabs at the insincerities of certain types and lifestyles and gently says thankfully he’s “Just A Cowboy.” And--think what you will--by choosing to name six of these tracks “Politically Incorrect Short Poem” again Andy speaks the truth. They are.

In his tasteful musical accompaniments, Rich O’Brien once again illustrates the reason for his WMA Instrumentalist Of The Year Awards and nominations. In this collection Andy Nelson also proves his mettle as the 2006 WMA Male Poet Of The Year. He is absolutely true to the historic Cowboy Poet tradition, and for all his humorous irreverence he’s really quite a reverent guy who cares far more about some of the sanctimonious pseudo-delicates in our midst than I ever could. CDs: $18 postage paid from Andy Nelson, P.O. Box 1547, Pinedale, Wyoming 82941, site: www.cowpokepoet.com, email andy@cowpokepoet.com and it’s available through www.backfortybunkhouse.com as well.

© 2007, Rick Huff

Read some of Andy Nelson's poetry here.
 

 

I’m Gonna Be A Cowboy
Ken Cook


Ken Cook is a relative newcomer on the Cowboy Poetry scene, who has already impressed many…including Yvonne Hollenbeck, and lemme tell ya she don’t impress easy!!!

On his most recent CD, Cook shows himself to be not only a gifted writer but also a natural interpreter. His voice runs from the animated delivery of the tale-tellin’ braggart to the measured intensity needed to tell of his “Grandpa’s Spurs” being left to him and the history of what that meant. You do tend to hang on his words, both because of the way they come at you and the quality of their order. Sometimes Cook will sucker punch you good with an ending that surprises to make a point as in “Vern’s Saddle Holds The Memories” or “So Here’s How I’ve Been Raised” and humorously in “Bring Her Back To The Home Range.” He’ll take on more complex rhyme schemes than will some, as in “A Cowboy’s Advice To The Foreman.” There are wistful portraits here like the CD’s title track and “Good Company,” the fun of the tripped-up tinhorn buyer in “Diversification” and more to be relished.

To those who know, the whole project will ring real as Grandpa’s rowels. Stick this one in your deck. CDs: $12 postage paid from Ken Cook, 23154 Teal Lane, Martin, South Dakota 57551, phone (605) 685-6749, www.kencookcowboypoet.com

© 2007, Rick Huff

Read some of Ken Cook's poetry here.

 

 

Born to be a Cowboy
David Anderson

Anderson wrote or set poetry to music for most of the ten songs featured here. A member of the Utah group STAMPEDE!, he gets the chance to shine on his own in a fine CD project. Joining him are his singer daughter Amanda and his singer/songwriter and guitarist brother Douglas.

Anderson’s expressive and impressive bass voice never misses the mark. Nor do his treatments of words from cowboy poets Sam Deleeuw, Les Buffham, Jo Lynne Kirkwood and C.R. Wood. Anderson’s flexibility helps sell it all well. Also featured is a wild guitar solo piece from brother Doug. Starring tracks include “Ridin’ Wild Horses,” “It’s Been A While” and the novelty track “Bad Habits.” I’ve got to admit this is an album I kept in my car to listen to before I knew I’d be reviewing it! CDs: $15 plus $2 s&h from David Anderson, c/o STAMPEDE! and Terri Taylor, P.O. Box 944, Roy, Utah 84067. Phone (801) 731-5859. 

© 2007, Rick Huff

Read more about David Anderson at the STAMPEDE! web site.

 

 

A Cowboy's Prayer
Barry Hertz

Vocally. Barry Hertz resides in the Gordon Lightfoot neighborhood, but his “home” isn’t identical.  This CD is interesting from a number of standpoints. 

Putting to music the poetry of Badger Clark has certainly been done before, but Hertz plies his own melodies to “Ridin’” (which was also done by Don Edwards), “My Own (Plains Born)” (Lorraine Rawls won an Academy of Western Artists’ award a few years back for her musical treatment), “Red’s Saloon (a.k.a. “The Piano Down At Red's"), “The Bunkhouse Orchestra” and more.  Comparing Hertz’s takes on the same words is an intriguing exercise, but beyond that we have seven other Clark poems set to music in a sensitively thought-through and nicely produced little gem. 

CDs:  $17.50 US and $20 Canadian includes postage, online from www.cdbaby.com/cd/barryhertz2 or directly from Barry Hertz, 132 Bracebridge Cres., SW  Calgary, Alberta Canada T2W 0Y7.

© 2007, Rick Huff

See our capsule description of A Cowboy's Prayer here.

 

 

Son of the Prairie Wind
Del Shields

Something about Del Shields’ sound reminds me a little bit of Curly Musgrave’s first release, in both the quality and variety. This album contains songs with well thought-out lyrics, beautifully rendered and produced. In fact the tracks that exclusively employ the acoustic Western instrumentation provide a perfect example of how to maximize the variety of its sound. When electric guitar is there, it’s done for a specific artistic reason (“Hard Luck Cowboy”) and is used with interesting effect. Also noteworthy is a neat little parody of Gene Autry’s you-know-what called “Bucked Out Of The Saddle Again!” And the poetry included here (“Old Cowboy,” “Dreamin’” and “The Greenhorn”) is also well delivered by Shields.

Thanks to producer (and Prairie Rose Wrangler) Jim Farrell, Prairie Rose Records has established itself as one of the labels you can count on to have something worth checking out. This one is superior from stem to stern. CDs: $16.95 postage paid from D & S Music, 2475 90th Rd., Humboldt, Kansas 66748, phone (620) 433-1819, website www.delbertshields.com.

© 2007, Rick Huff

Visit Del Shield's web site.

 

 

Wild Provence
by Lorraine d’Entremont Rawls with J. Anne Lazarus


Leave it to the ladies to expand our horizons! First Patty Clayton reacquaints us with our older Cowboy cousins the paniolo of Hawaii. Now Lorraine Rawls brings our attention to France’s cowboys of the Camargue…le gardians!

Actually that’s “Lorraine d’Entremont Rawls” to be exact, and her exhibit materials and documentary (done with poet/filmmaker Gail Steiger) made up the keynote cultural exhibit at this year’s Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko. In the accompanying book Wild Provence, created with poet and business coach J. Anne Lazarus, Rawls tells us about writer/rancher Folo de Baroncelli among other things, and his mission to rescue and elevate Provencal culture through restoring the pure Camargue bull. So impressed was he in seeing “Buffalo Bill” Cody’s Wild West Show when it played France in 1901, he sought to instill that pride he observed in the gardians as he codified a new way of dressing for them and playing the games with the bulls.

The lifestyle and feeling of the land are covered in the book with poetic charm and elegant word pictures that are as condiment rich as your standard French cuisine. Well, actually the food faire of these cowboys of the Camargue is more to the point than that of their confreres to the North, as you’ll see from the recipes included in the text. If I missed anything at all it was perhaps getting to meet the gardians on even more of a tack-and-saddle level as well, but what is presented here is fascinating indeed. It should certainly make the reader curious to know more! Books available for $20 postage paid from Lorraine Rawls, P.O. Box 989, Talent, Oregon 97540. www.lorrainerawls.com/gardians_book.html

© 2007, Rick Huff

Visit Lorraine Rawl's web site.

 

 

What Would Martha Do?
Yvonne Hollenbeck

Just hearing the name of this CD's title track makes ranch folks (particularly the ladies) nod knowingly and smile. Of course knowing nods of approval and recognition are not new reactions to Yvonne Hollenbeck, who ranks as one of the all-time great purveyors and performers of honest cowboy verse. It's so honest it may take a little while before you tumble to the fact that the story she's telling you or the neighborly chat she's having with you just happens to rhyme.

For this project Rich O'Brien again provides his tasteful musical support behind several of the poems in this nicely representative collection. Included here are proven crowd pleasers like "Sorting Time," "Dining Out," "Putting Down Ol' Red,"  "Duct Tape" and "Nature's Church" (with Jean Prescott) and the ones you haven't heard her do will please you just that much more.  This lady...and this album...are Western True all the way! CDs $15 plus $2.50 s&h to Yvonne Hollenbeck 30549 291st Street, Clearfield, SD 57580

© 2007, Rick Huff

Read some of Yvonne Hollenbeck's poetry here.


 

  

Bucking Horse Moon
Wylie & The Wild West

Where Wylie’s previous release Live At The Tractor (award winner though it was) was a one-pass recording admittedly issued with warts intact, Bucking Horse Moon is tightly controlled and produced by John Carter Cash.  The CD opens with the novel kind of piece his fans would expect of him “Whip Out A Yodel,” but it goes on to present some of Wylie’s best work yet and more variety in style than ever.

Three of the songs are Paul Zarzyski collaborations (including the title track).  Riding with Wylie means staying in the saddle over changing terrain.  There’s plenty for traditionalists in songs like “Out West” and the terrific “Where Horses Are Heroes.”  A bit of the funk manifested years back in Wylie’s take on “Buffalo Gals” shows up again in “Rodeo To The Bone” and fuzz guitar boogie in “Jodell.”  He salutes some classics, “Don’t Take Your Guns To Town” for one, and his haunting instrumental “Eltopia Yodel” hit me in much the same way that my first hearing of “Ashokan Farewell” did!  Juni Fisher and Hoot Hester are just two of the top talents along for the ride on this CD.  To paraphrase Mr. Zarzyski…it’s a BEAUT’ !  ($15 plus s&h)  Available from Western Jubilee Recording, P.O. Box 9187, Colorado Springs, CO  80932   onthetrail@westernjubilee.com

© 2007, Rick Huff
This review appeared in the March/April, 2007 edition of Rope Burns

See our feature on Wylie & the Wild West here.


 

Silver Shadows
Tom & Donna Hatton

Silver Shadows is the follow up to the Hatton’s well-received Cowboy poetry & music album Whispers Of Voices which, in 2005, netted them a deserved Will Rogers Award for “Poetry CD of the Year” from the Academy Of Western Artists.  Like its predecessor, the Hatton’s newest release uses dramatic effects but stops just short of being overtly theatrical and crossing into plotline.

Two of the tracks that are musical standouts are the CD’s title track “Silver Shadows” (a Jon Messenger collaboration with Donna) and her jivey swinging novelty “Colorado Cowgirl.”  The balance of the CD is like a visit over t’ the neighbors’ spread, hearing reminiscences and chatting about old times.  It’s as if the musicians have come to provide scoring for the Hatton’s Western lives as they remember it, tell it or sing it.  The feel here is like these aren’t songs delivered by singers but, instead, from a regular cowboy or ranch wife thinking back on them.   

Many of the themes found here aren’t new, but getting the Hatton’s treatment sets them up in newer ways.  Fans of Whispers Of Voices should find Silver Shadows an equally satisfying ride.  CD(s) $15.00 ppd.  CD sales & bookings:  White Owl Productions, 230 Ute Trail, Woodland Park , Colorado 80863 . email: tomhatton@aol.com

© 2007, Rick Huff
This review appeared in the March/April, 2007 edition of Rope Burns

Read some of Donna Hatton's poetry here.


 

Astraddle A Saddle
Patty Clayton

Truthfully, I must say I’d never heard “astraddle” used as a verb but, hey!  Patty can talk me into most anything!  In her third release, we get a neatly mixed bag of styles.  There’s everything from Swing to Folk, slow Jazz vamp to Hawaiian Cha Cha (?)!!  Yes, Virginia, Western can embrace all of it!

There’s a good sense of frisky fun and musicianship on “I Didn’t Know The Gun Was Loaded,” Nancy Thorwardson’s waltz “Dakota Sunset” gets a nice acoustic treatment (with Nancy handling some harmony too!) and Colorado singer Jon Chandler, composer of the ferociously anti-Jesse James song “He Was No Hero,” provides harmonica for Patty’s terrific version.  Among the seven Clayton originals, “The Vaquero & Me” teams Patty and Juni Fisher, in a two-way saga of a Hawaiian girl and a seňorita in love with the same vaquero (who cowboys for King Kamehameha!)  One song founded on the Osage term for a racing prairie wildfire (“Red Buffalo”) honest-ta-god raised the hair on my arms!  And “Happy Trails To You” gives credit to the similarly-titled Dale Evans song, but this is Patty’s original to the core.

Rich O’Brien and fourteen other players contributed brilliantly to the final effect.  Here then is a CD that fairly sings “expansion of an artist!”  Nicely done, Ms. C., nicely done!  www.pattyclayton.com  $15 plus s/h online through cdbaby.com         

© 2007, Rick Huff
This review appeared in the March/April, 2007 edition of Rope Burns

Read more about Patty Clayton's Astraddle a Saddle here.


 

Giving Back (Cowboy Musicians & Poets Offer Up Their Best…)
various artists                

A while back Montana Cowboy entertainer, horse trainer and poet T.J. Casey and wife Marcie had the great idea to start helping “farmers and ranchers affected by the ravages of nature.”  The Giving Back Foundation is the result and this fundraising double CD set pulls together twenty-five performances from artists contributing to the effort.

When they say “offer up their best” they mean it!  It’s fair to say Giving Back can be considered one of the better compilations issued in the past two decades.  Eli Barsi & Doris Daley open it with their fine “Just Call Him Cowboy.”  Here, too, are R.W. Hampton (“Born To Be A Cowboy”), Open Range (“Blue & Lonesome”), Ken Overcast (“Cold, Broke & Hungry”) plus great ones from Sisters Of The Silver Sage, R.J. Vandygriff, Donnie Blanz, Dan Miller and a slew of others.  Some stylistically ride the rim, like Kail Mantle’s feisty “No Mares,” Ringling 5’s near singalong-styled “Fencin’ Blues” and one of the more original Western performer-writers around Jim Reader (“The Ranchin’ Life’s OK”).  Joining in also are some top poets and reciters including the unsurpassed Jay Snider and others!

From both the content of this double CD set and the mission of the Giving Back Foundation, here’s an answer twice-over to the question “What is Western!”  Pick this one up!  Donations to the Giving Back Foundation and CD purchases ($24.95) are accepted by the Montana Stock Growers Association (MSGA), 420 N. California St. , Helena , MT   59601 .  (406) 442-3420.  

© 2007, Rick Huff
This review appeared in the March/April, 2007 edition of Rope Burns

Read more about Giving Back here.

 

See page one for a complete alphabetical list of all reviews

 

 

 

 

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