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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

See page one for a complete alphabetical list of all reviews


Reviews on this Page

Alphabetically by artist, below

This is page four

Counting the Cost by Liz Adair
Cowboy II by Lynn Anderson

Just In Case by Bill Barwick
Red Rock Rondo by Phillip Bimstein
Horsegirl Poet by Aspen Black
Work in Progress the Broken Chair Band

Riding Catalina Again by the California Cowboy Band
Life Love Legends by Carin Mari and the Pony Express
Songs A Cowboy Might Sing by Charlie Camden
At First Light by Tom Cole & Brian Salmond
Cowboy Songs by Mark Compere
Cowboys Are Like That by Ken Cook
Other Peoples' Cattle by Cowboy Celtic
Stuff That Works by Criddles & McCords
The Gypsy Cowman—A Vanishing Breed produced by Linda Lou Crosby

Beneath a Western Sky by Doris Daley
Western Bling by Stephanie Davis
Western Swing by Stephanie Davis
A Tougher Horse by Geff Dawson
Bittersweet Cowboy Reflections by Benjamin Dehart
Poems of the Trail by Steve Deming
Songs Along the Trail by The Desert Sons
Lucky Seven by The Desperadoes
The Old & The New by the Diamond W Wranglers

Songs of the Untamed West by Frank Fara
One Life to Live by Linda Lee Filener
Ride Away by Rich Flanders
Ridin' For The Brand by the Flying W Wranglers

 New & Used by Gadzukes!
Ridin' In by Janice Gilbertson
Oklahoma 1955 by Les Gilliam
The Night Ol' Flukie Foundered by DW Groethe

A Century Too Late by Greg Hager
Daydream by Greg Hager
Campfire Cowboy—Back To The Fire by Fred Hargrove
My Sacred Ground by Fred Hargrove
Cross Halo by Paul Harris
A Good Ride by Bill Hearne
Welcome To The Tribe by Andy Wilkinson and Andy Hedges
Wind in the Wire by Ed Stabler with Kelly Henson
Lullabies & Cautionary Tales by E. Christina Herr & Wild Frontier
Shalako by Joe Herrington
Appaloosa Moon by Tom Hiatt
Ranch Life 101 by Sweethearts in Carhartts (Jean Prescott, Yvonne Hollenbeck, and Liz Masterson)
Daughters Of The West by Horse Crazy

Back Home on the Range by Jim Jones
When A Poor Man Dreams by Jim Jones
Desert Moon by Charles Woller and Deborah Liv Johnson

Clean Outta Luck by Mary Kaye
Different Kind Of Cowboy by Bobby Kingston

Cowboy State of Mind by Jennifer Lind
The Faraway Look by Daron Little
Don't Ever Sell Your Saddle by Skeeter Mann & The Lost Canyon Rangers
Dancing Shadows, Mustangs & Dreams by Sam Mattise and Michael Luque

Stuff That Works by Criddles & McCords
 Rhythms of a Westerner by Jasper McCoy
Goin' My Way? by Gary McMahan
The Poetry of Larry McWhorter by Larry McWhorter and various artists

Pickin' Memories With Peggy Malone by Peggy Malone
Don't Ever Sell Your Saddle by Skeeter Mann & The Lost Canyon Rangers
Bringing Water to the Land by Richard Martin

Frontier Cowboy Songs—Volume 1 by Syd Masters
Ranch Life 101 by Sweethearts in Carhartts (Jean Prescott, Yvonne Hollenbeck, and Liz Masterson)
Dancing Shadows, Mustangs & Dreams by Sam Mattise and Michael Luque
The Ballad Of Kitty Jo by the Mountain Saddle Band
Buckaroo Blue Grass by Michael Martin Murphey
Lone Cowboy by Michael Martin Murphey

Scofield's Cowboy Campfire produced by Nashville West Studios
He Rides the Wild Horses by J.C. Needham
Living the Dream by Neeta
Riding with Jim by Andy Nelson
Round Up Ready by Barbara Nelson
Westerners by Nevada Slim and Cimarron Sue

Ridin' Back To Yesterday by The Old West Trio
Sky Settles Everything; the Wayne James Story by Verlena Orr

The Trail to Miranda Park by Dale Page
Southwestern Serenade by Patty Parker
Music Beneath The Mesa by Jonathan Lee Pickens & Friends
The State Songs: Volume One by Rick Pickren
The State Songs Volume Two by Rick Pickren
The Prairie Rose Rangers by The Prairie Rose Rangers
Life Love Legends by Carin Mari and the Pony Express
Ranch Life 101 by Sweethearts in Carhartts (Jean Prescott, Yvonne Hollenbeck, and Liz Masterson)

I Wanted to Fly by Sandy Reay & Friends
Top Seller!!! by Pat Richardson
Houston by River Road Boys
Word Wranglin' by Gary Robertson

Herdin' Cats by The Saddle Cats
At First Light by Tom Cole & Brian Salmond
What's a Steer by Cade Schalla
Songs for the Cowboys by Richard Sharp
Echoes of the West by Del Shields
True Love by Rebecca Linda Smith
Sons Of The Pioneers & Guests 75th Anniversary Show Volume I by the Sons of the Pioneers and various artists
The Westerner by the Sons of the Rio Grande
Classics II by Sourdough Slim
Old Cowboys Never Die by Steven Spalding
Wind in the Wire by Ed Stabler with Kelly Henson
Come Ride with Me by Dave Stamey
Ridin' Back to You by The Stardust Cowboys
Ranch Life 101 by Sweethearts in Carhartts (Jean Prescott, Yvonne Hollenbeck, and Liz Masterson)

  More Than Satisfied by Liz Talley
Something In The Air by Nancy Thorwardson
Tuxedo Country by the Tom Houston Orchestra

Welcome To The Tribe by Andy Wilkinson and Andy Hedges
Desert Moon by Charles Woller and Deborah Liv Johnson
Cora's Cowgirl Yodel by Cora Rose Wood
Unwired by Wylie & the Wild West

The Christmas Trail by the Yampa Valley Boys

Various Artists
The BAR-D Roundup: Volume Four from CowboyPoetry.com
The Silver Screen Cowboy Project by Various Artists


Many more reviews on page 2 and page 3

See page one for a complete alphabetical list of all reviews


The Poetry of Larry McWhorter
Larry McWhorter and various artists

What an amazing labor of love this must have been for everybody concerned! Here is a 2-CD visit with one of the all time great cowboy poets, and I guarantee you it's a visit you'll revisit, and revisit, and revisit!


McWhorter passed away in 2003, far too young, after a grueling battle with cancer. His friends Jean Prescott and Rich O'Brien got with engineer Aaron Meador and put together this wondrous collection of poems interpreted by their author as only he could...and more!  With wonderfully appropriate acoustic guitar accompaniment by O'Brien, we hear again about the tragic "Johnny Clare," we appreciate the rough-hewn cowboy proposal in "The Open Gate," we grin at McWhorter's portraits of brash hands gettin' their comeuppance in works like "The Red Cow" and "Peaches and the Twister."  And thirteen more on the first CD alone. Then comes CD number two...


Reading McWhorter classics are fellow poets Red Steagall, Andy Hedges, Chris Isaacs, Dennis Flynn, Oscar Auker, and included are two technical masterworks allowing McWhorter to "appear" as he'd always wanted to with Waddie Mitchell! Lump in the throat time! The great Jesse Smith is present too, which prompts my own memory of Larry McWhorter. In a rickety announcer booth I once sat with Jesse Smith offering "color commentary" on the doin's at a ranch rodeo thrown north of Red River, New Mexico. It was held in conjunction with a Western event, and certain of the cowboy entertainers were challenged to participate "if'n they was real by-gawd cowboys!" The team of Rod Taylor, Larry McWhorter, Chuck Cusimano and (I think) Buster McLaury more than showed the crowd they were every bit the real deal that mud soaked day!


This double album is a stunner. Listening to these words, we can fully realize what we had...and because these fine folks cared so much, now also what we have!


(All profits from sales go to benefit the Colorado non-profit equine therapy program Rein Of Glory).


2-CD set:  $25 ppd through Prescott Music, PO Box 194, Ovalo, Texas 79514; www.jeanprescott.com

© 2010, Rick Huff



Riding with Jim
Andy Nelson

If you go to cowboy poetry events, get the books or CDs or listen to C.O.W. Radio, you almost surely know something about Andy Nelson's dad from some of Andy's poetic tributes to him. In "Riding With Jim" you now get to know James F. Walker Nelson on a first name basis.


What you might not have known before is that Andy's dad was a writer too, and evidently a darned good one. Samples of his work are here as proof along with Andy's, and it makes for a fascinating, one-of-a-kind book. In reviewing it, I was briefly tempted to call it a "scrapbook in words, images and verse" but it's really more. And I considered "a journey" but it's really several. Then I came up with "a lively, true Western portrait of family and friends, lives and a lifestyle, with all the moments, magic, misadventures and craziness that creates heartfelt warmth and makes for one of those great reads you are truly glad you invested the time with!" But that would end in a preposition, and just how much space do you think I have here? Suffice it to say as you move from story to poem to picture to reflection to gut busting laugh-maker and back again, you will have a marvelous ride...and not wonder one whit what to call it!


Andy Nelson calls it Riding With Jim.  How 'bout you just call it "yours!"


Book:  $25 ppd (hardcover) from Andy Nelson, PO Box 1547, Pinedale, WY  82941  Phone (307) 367-2842 www.cowpokepoet.com  

© 2010, Rick Huff


The Night Ol' Flukie Foundered
 DW Groethe

I continue to be delighted at the outcropping of the old literary form called the "chapbook." And that old literary and singin' varmint DW Groethe has found in them yet another format to use to amuse and amaze!


D.W. is always good for grins and thoughtful spins, and this collection delivers both in heaps. Perhaps the epic title poem should come with one of those medical warnings, like "not suggested for use near food!!"  Although painfully funny, the thing brings to mind a particularly grisly spittoon joke that I knew as a lad and could be counted on to purposely render at the most inappropriate moments. I'd tell it to D.W. but he might rhyme it up and put it in the next book!


You can find deep solace through the word portraits he expertly paints in pieces like "Star Cavvy" and "When There's Frost Upon The Ponies." He takes you to the heart of it when he talks about lookin' "Over Yonder" and offers one suitable for a town bully boy to roar in "Cerberus Rising!" And just when you're in danger of gettin' downright dewey-eyed, he rides to the comedic rescue with items like "He Ate A Bug," "Bully Tom Gets His," "Breakin' A Sweat" or "The Ballad Of Murphy's Outhouse!"


Chapbooks are good quick company. In this one DW Groethe gives you the same good dose of True Cowboy he always does, and that's the top compliment I can give.


Book:  $15 ppd from DW Groethe, Box 144, Bainville, MT  59212; 406-769-2312 

© 2010, Rick Huff

Ridin' In
Janice Gilbertson

Based on the clearly drawn portraits of people we meet in the opening piece, "Angela," and the connected poem, "The Rough Stock Rider's Kid," that follows it, I thought there was a story being formed in prose and poetry. But I guess they dissolved into the visions and doings of The West...revealed through successive poems and profiles in Janice Gilbertson's chapbook Riding In. And really, that would be sort of a Western thing for them to have done.

Whether Gilbertson is musing on the reasons for the cowboy life in "I'd Say" and its companion verse "Maybe It's Your Calling," calling attention to the wonder of "Pasture Frogs" that seem to grow when you add a drop of water or relating an encounter...possibly the final one...with an old, favorite horse, she gives you fuel for thought. Your smile or your tear of recognition is your payoff!

For the most part the new breed of chapbooks that have appeared fairly recently are excellent mini-prompts for us. They give us little reality checks and lighter moments. The best of them provide a vital breath or two of real Cowboy oxygen!  Janice Gilbertson's Riding In has your air mask at-the-ready...

Book:  $11 ppd from Janice Gilbertson, PO Box 350, King City, CA  93930.

© 2010, Rick Huff


Cora's Cowgirl Yodel
Cora Rose Wood

In our genre apparently young never gets old! Cora Rose Wood is the latest cute little one on the Western circuit.  

Barely bigger than her guitar, Cora (daughter of Western entertainer Laurie Wood) is enthusiastic and certainly displays the potential, particularly in yodeling, to make the mighty jump past novelty into seasoned performer that many of her predecessors have not managed to make. I've said it before, and it applies here. Kids' material needs to be carefully chosen. I will always be uneasy about three-, five- and ten-year-olds singing "I Wanta Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart" and yet every last one of 'em is made to tackle it. On this album Cora also does "I Didn't Know The Gun Was Loaded!"

Conversely Will Dudley's "Itty Bitty Outlaw" is quite delightful and well suited to Cora, and some added mini-poems of hers sustain the novelty. Her "Goodbye Old Paint" (here just called "Old Paint") is very cute in its bone-weary contradiction. And the title track "Cora's Cowgirl Yodel" apparently is a co-write with singer/songwriter Paul Harris.

There are seven songs and, as we said, three very brief poems.  Oh, well...she's eight, she's cute...whadaya want?

CDs:  $13 ppd from Wood Western Music, HC 63 Box 18 C, Saratoga, WY  82331 or online through www.woodwesternmusic.com.

© 2010, Rick Huff


Other Peoples' Cattle
Cowboy Celtic

Here come some of the undisputed standard bearers in promoting Western's strong connection to its green roots. Cowboy Celtic returns with another emerald in their string of CDs!

Always featuring top-notch performances, a release from Cowboy Celtic is great listening for most any audience you might choose.  On Other People's Cattle the band shows some more Celtic connections to cowboy classics ("When The Work's All Done This Fall" with "The Humour's On Me Now" and "The Water Is Wide" with "O Waly Waly"). Here you'll also find new cowboy songs done with an "Old Country" lilt, such as David Wilkie's "Hole In The Wall" and "Lady Margaret Hamilton" (no, not the wicked witch!) plus jigs, reels and waltzes suitable for playin' at a barn dance in the West or on the auld sod. The title track, written by a friend of the group, tells of a life spent taking care of cattle the cowboy doesn't own and never will. Fourteen tracks total.

Just as those other interpreters of Irish in the West Prickly Pair do on their albums, Cowboy Celtic founder David Wilkie nicely annotates each track in the liner notes, making for a CD that is informative as well as being greatly entertaining.  Obviously, this one is highly recommended!

 CDs:  $16.99 plus postage through www.cowboyceltic.com

© 2010, Rick Huff


The Gypsy Cowman—A Vanishing Breed
produced by Linda Lou Crosby

Badgett's Law For Younger People: Never break your word, never lie to yourself, never quit trying, be proud and be observant. That "code of conduct" list is the shortest I've ever seen from a cowboy hero. And make no mistake, in the real sense, as evidenced in film producer Linda Lou Crosby's excellent DVD portrait of Gypsy Cowman and cowboy poet Owen Badgett, that description is not too much to apply.

His code is him. And strict adherence to the five key points in it are all that's needed to become the true person, the persistent person and the rounded person others can rely upon. Knowing you can count on each other out on the tough eastern Montana plains is a major part of this story, wonderfully photographed and told. It's a loveably cantankerous cowboy we meet here, who loves riding his horse "Sinatra," although he'll buck at any excuse! By definition, the "Gypsy Cowman" is a fellow who runs cattle he owns on the lands of others and in turn helps on that ranch and others.  It's done by agreement...the giving of your word...and not by any contracts. And the DVD proves its point about the "vanishing breed" as it watches Owen retire and move into town (where there are nine people...how will he stand the bustle of it?).

The economy of production, and by that I mean not belaboring any aspect, makes this DVD flow so nicely. It has momentum, it's fun, it's illustrative and you get a very clear feeling of the man, the people and the moment thanks to the storytelling and editing ability of its creator. Crosby is the daughter of former Roy Rogers leading lady Linda Hayes and the sister of actresses Cathy Lee Crosby and Lucinda Crosby, by the way. She grew up with a love of Western values and she certainly recognized a good story in her much respected friend Owen Badgett. In reporting it she has brought her news background to the task.

In reviewing, I have a "code" I use as well, actually learned in Theatre. It's Goethe's Points of Criticism: What are the artists trying to say, do they say it well, and is it worth saying. Based on the criteria expressed there and what I saw in Linda Lou Crosby's creation, I'm prepared to make a statement about The Gypsy CowmanA Vanishing Breed:  For my money, it's the best I've ever seen.

 DVD:  $20 ppd through www.inyokernhorsehotel.com or call Linda Lou Crosby at 760-377-5001.

 © 2010, Rick Huff

Scofield's Cowboy Campfire

produced by Nashville West Studios

The material featured here is drawn from across the course of a full season of Western music performers, cowboy poets and storytellers at the popular Red Mule Ranch dinner shows in Fiddletown, California. Scofield's Cowboy Campfire shows have been a treasured destination for more than a decade, and this DVD tour of performances will give you a very good idea why. 

Put together by Nashville West Studios, the style of presentation is more "quick-cut" than you may have seen done before in our genre. Interspersed in the style of music videos are lots of cutaways to other Western images as a song or poem proceeds, but never locking down too long. Also, interview clips and poems are actually arranged into the songs themselves, which may raise a hackle or three on the necks of some purists, but hey! Their hackles need exercise too! This technique of editing is aimed at "today's folks" with their proven computer-shaped attention spans. It's almost certain to be the best way to grab whatever power of concentration they have left.

Performers include Tom Scofield himself, Joni Harms, Eli Barsi, Juni Fisher, the Old West Trio, Sourdough Slim, Doris Daley, Jim King, McAvoy Layne, Bob Christensen, Karen & Jim Ross and Dave Stamey

Scofield's Cowboy Campfire on DVD is still a kick. Pick it up! You'll get a strong sense of what some of "the best Western has to offer" is offering.

DVD:  $25 ppd check or money order to Scofield's Cowboy Campfire, PO Box 12, Fiddletown, CA  95629 or online by credit card through www.scofieldscowboycampfire.com

© 2010, Rick Huff


Nevada Slim and Cimarron Sue

Nevada Slim & Cimarron Sue (a.k.a. Bruce & Susan Matley) are two of the West Coast specialists in the state and county fair circuits. They're back with that mix of originals and classics their fans have come to expect.

Sue's rangy cowgirl character and Slim's light opera effect make for a different kind of blend, but it's one they have developed over time and they're obviously comfortable with it. A couple of the original picks are "I Ride The Range (The Modern Way)" (a novelty on the changed way of doing it) and "Cowboy's Farewell" (lost love and what might have been). A curious novelty version of "Don't Fence Me In" casts Sue in the lead as a female Wildcat Kelly, adding a verse about Wildcat's fella trying unsuccessfully to settle her down! 

Jack Hannah's not-so-often-done piece "The West" is here, as are some of the more commonly done works like "Cattle Call," "They Call The Wind Mariah," "Coyotes" and "Happy Trails." Sixteen music tracks, several of which sport Peter Evasick (fiddle/harmonica/slide guitar) and George Radebaugh (accordion). 

CDs:  $14.95 ppd or download single songs for $.99 through www.cdbaby.com/cd/NevadaSlimCimarronSue

© 2010, Rick Huff

Wind in the Wire
Ed Stabler with Kelly Henson

One of the founders of the Western Music Association is back, and proves he actually never left! 

Ed Stabler has brought along a new associate, too. Kelly Henson provides backup vocals with acoustic bass support and she's a welcome addition. Ed Stabler has always been the proof in performance that a genuine cowboy or Western rustic approach can still be musical. On his new release the baritone balladeer from Texas offers twelve tracks with subjects and sounds as divergent as "Sheriff" Jim Wilson's "Agua Verde Crossing," Gary McMahan's "Old Double Diamond" and Gary Fjellgaard's masterpiece "Reins Of Glory" to Red Lane's "The Day I Jumped From Uncle Harvey's Plane," Donnie Blanz & Ed Bruce's "How Do You Do That?," and Joe Primrose's "St. James Infirmary!!"

Stabler is known for his intense integrity and devotion to things truly Western and his work in putting melodies to great poems of Badger Clark and Henry Herbert Knibbs among others, and introducing them to new audiences. If perhaps elapsed time has caused you not know him, please let this serve as your introduction. Listeners and CD buyers?  I'd like you to meet Ed...

CDs:  $15 plus $3 s/h from Ed Stabler, PO Box 1030, Mertzon, TX  76941-1030 or call (325) 8345-5023.

© 2010, Rick Huff

Clean Outta Luck
Mary Kaye

As a singer Mary Crawford Knaphus (a.k.a."Mary Kaye") brings to the table one of the more captivating vocal presentations to come along in a good while. 

She boasts a wider than usual vocal range (from soprano to near bass), a very tight vibrato and dead-on accurate pitch across wide note spreads. They give her plenty of tools with which to express her music and she's obviously in control of all of them. 

This CD, with its solid acoustic guitar accompaniment and interesting content, provides a terrific showcase for Mary Kaye's sweet to sassy performances. As a songwriter she is apparently equally at home with writing ballads, novelties or saga songs. Nine of the CD's twelve songs are originals. Any of them are strong enough to be picked up by other artists, but particularly ripe for covers are the title track "Clean Outta Luck," "Three Nooses," "Lucy LaRue" and "Cowboy Waltzin' Across Her Mind."

No tray card came with the demo CD furnished for review, so I can't credit the fine guitar work on it.  Just know it is fine. Also I have not been able to discover how to purchase the CD. Just get it if you see it!

© 2010, Rick Huff

[Find Mary Kaye at: marykayemusic.blogspot.com; www.myspace.com/marykayemusic; and on Facebook as Mary Kaye Knaphus]


Bittersweet Cowboy Reflections
Benjamin Dehart

Here's a Florida cowboy singer who brings with him his heritage of the Cow Hunters or, as he calls them in his cover letter, "Florida's cracker cow culture!" And he does it with a powerful Irish or Welsh-type tenor voice, somewhat in the tradition of a John Denver, only stronger. 

Benjamin Dehart's superior vocal control is exhibited in songs like his "Ranch Rodeo Sweetheart," with perfect execution of a deceptively tricky slow yodel that moves dangerously close above and below the break in his voice.  I wonder how many yodelers would even attempt it!

The swinging track "Sold My Saddle Blues" is feisty fun with two capital "Fs!"  Other nice originals from Dehart (based on real experiences) include "7000 Feet And Sixteen Hands Closer To Heaven," "Wind River Rose," and there are three collaborations with Dehart's music being applied to lyrics from others. There's even a poem, "Hats & Boots," convincingly delivered and mounted with sound effects.  And there are saga songs like "Incident At Ocean Pond a.k.a. Olustee" and the classics "Little Joe the Wrangler," folk's Western song, "South Coast," and "Streets Of Laredo."  On that one I have a crediting question. Dehart cites "lyrics by Harry Stephens c. 1876."  Most, including the practically infallible Jim Bob Tinsley, say the cowboy consolidation of the lyrics came from Francis Henry Maynard, at Tom Sherman's Bar in Dodge City, Kansas in that same year 1876. 

Regardless, this is an extraordinary album in content and performance. Oh yes...in case people (such as DJs) aren't sure of the pronunciation of his name, Benjamin Dehart took care of that...by naming his studio "Straight From Dehart Productions." 

CDs:  $15 ppd through www.thecrackertenor.com.

© 2010, Rick Huff

Counting the Cost
Liz Adair

He is Heck Benham, a striking handsome young cowboy with barely more than his saddle and his Levis to his name. She is Ruth Reynolds, a lovely and free-spirited woman, caught in an abusive loveless marriage with the "bean counter" hired by Heck's respected rancher boss. Maybe the passion that builds between them was never meant to be, but certainly it was never allowed to be in the straight-laced, southern New Mexico ranching society of the 1930s depicted in Liz Adair's Western romance novel, Counting The Cost. Will they decide to throw caution to the whistling Western wind?  And could they weather the consequences...

Westerner Liz Adair is the best-selling author of the Spider Latham mystery series. In her first Western novel, the plot moves at sort of a Bridges Of Madison County pace. Mostly the inevitable is played out against the leisurely, but with the staccato points of a lightening strike, a bucking horse or a fist to the face. You nearly feel the remote silence, the single bird off in a field, or a distant slamming door. Moreover, Adair displays an intimate knowledge of the cowboys' work, gear and lives.  It's revealed in the details. For instance, there's a description of Heck and the hands working the remuda by forming a living corral with their ropes stretched between them that I don't recall ever before seeing in print or alluded to in song. 

Adair writes in her book's Acknowledgements and Dedication that it was inspired by family gossip of an uncle who got himself into such a situation, and the story just delivered itself to her. You might like it delivered to you!

Book:  $17.95 softcover (335 pages) from  www.Inglestonepublishing.com.

© 2010, Rick Huff

Stuff That Works
Criddles & McCords

Stuff That Works is basically a comfy, low-key collection (not just because Van & Dallas have deep voices)!

Individually they are cowboy poet Van Criddle & wife Kathy Criddle and West Coast radio hosts Dallas & P.J. McCord. And besides being the Guy Clark-penned title track, Stuff That Works also describes the concept of the CD. No pretense. Just songs that have powerfully affected listeners, songs with poems that dovetail together, proven audience favorites and requests. In other words, stuff that works.

Fans of the quartet get a horn o' plenty here. Along with seven original Van Criddle poems, they've included homespun takes of songs from Juni Fisher ("The Same River" and "I Hope She'll Love Me"), Donnie Blanz & Ed Bruce ("Just Can't See Him From The Road"), R.J. Vandygriff ("Cowgirl's Promise"), Terri Taylor ("Wyoming Waltz"), David Anderson & Les Buffham ("Up On The High Ground") and others.  Twenty tracks total.

One crediting issue needs to be cleared up. "Sunset Trail" is actually from R.W. Hampton, not "unknown."

CDs:  $15 ppd from Van & Kathy Criddle, 2034 Laurelhurst, Eugene, OR  97402, or Dallas & PJ McCord, 240 Blue Jay Loop, Creswell, OR  97426.  Emails: vcrdd@comcast.net or dallasmccord@yahoo.com

© 2010, Rick Huff

Horsegirl Poet
Aspen Black

Horsegirl Poet is an unusual title for a rather unusual performer. Black wrote the 19 tracks and, with the exception of three studio-recorded songs, she recorded and mastered the CD, played all the instruments (acoustic and 12-string guitar, acoustic bass, fiddle, mandolin, and percussion), shot her own album photos, and executed the graphics for the CD jacket! She writes that she wanted to see if she could do all of the aspects of the album herself. Quite an accomplishment. That having been said and done, it should be pointed out that there are "sound" reasons for having some other qualified ears and eyes involved.

There is more technical flange filtering on the voice than many Western listeners will be accustomed to. And as many Western music purchasers are elderly, the visual choice of fine white print on a black field may prevent the reading of the song titles and notes. 

Her vocal quality is high, light and lyrical. It would probably lend itself to Folk as well. In this CD the subjects are Cowboy and New Age. Many of the songs lean toward a mystical vision of the West.  The poetry is delivered dramatically and mounted with a good deal of theatricality in the sound effects and musical support. In content it alternates between spiritual, cowboy spirit and self examination. They're unique and pretty interesting.

I believe Aspen Black has a unique vision to offer in Western, and that it will, and should, come to the fore.  With the right assistance, those gifts will be allowed to shine in the optimal light.

CD:  $18.95 ppd to Aspen Black, Buksbari Ranch, 90 Buksbari Lane, Rocky Mount, VA  24151; www.horsegirlpoet.com.

© 2010, Rick Huff


A Good Ride
Bill Hearne

That's what Bill Hearne gives these songs, and that's what you get listening to them as well!  A good ride! 

The gravel-voiced master interpreter of Honky Tonk and Western who helped launch the Austin Music scene returns with a great collection. The title track is from Lyle Lovett, another good friend of Hearne's who he helped early on in his career. Other fine Western tracks include his buddy Chuck Pyle's "Endless Sky," Bill Staines' "Sweet Wyoming Home," "Ian Tyson's "That Old Cowboy," and Darrell Statler's "Honky Tonk Stardust Cowboy." That track makes for a good subject transition, since with Bill Hearne the Honky Tonk is never far away.

The engaging Allison Anders/Dean Lent song "Border Radio" kicks things off and it just gets more danceable from there with songs from more Hearne friends! Shake Russell's "You've Got A Lover," Delbert McClinton's "Object Of My Affection and "I Wanta Thank You Babe," and the list goes on.  Wife and long-time singing partner Bonnie Hearne is on two of the tracks on this swinging, stompin' CD from Don Richmond's Howlin' Dog studios in Alamosa...rapidly becoming a go-to place for seekers of production quality in the Rockies! Nineteen tracks in all, and not a misfire in the bunch!

CDs:  $15 ppd through www.frogvilleplanet.com or contact Bill at (505) 690-2514.

© 2010, Rick Huff


Songs Along the Trail
The Desert Sons

Southern Arizona's Western harmony meisters have a fresh release that reaffirms their prowess in that department. 

The Desert Sons were the group onto which my Western Music mentor Hi Busse wanted to confer the name of his own classic group The Frontiersmen when he was considering retiring from touring..."considering" being about as far as that ever went! At the time (the early '90s) he said they were the one group he'd encountered who really understood how to do it right. It's safe to say nothing in this newest album would have changed his mind on that.

Buck Ryberg (lead vocal/rhythm guitar), Benny Young (fiddle/accordion/vocals), Skelly Boyd (lead guitar/vocals), and Slim Tighe (acoustic bass/vocals) are joined on two tracks by former Sons members Bill Ronstadt (bass/vocals) and Bill Ganz (guitar/vocals). Fans of the band will be happy to know a new version of their popular theme song "Arizona Home" is here, along with other Ryberg originals that have proven to be favorites ("Song Of Lupita," "Blue Colorado Skies," "Sundown Song," and "Nightherd Lullaby"). They always offer classics and a rarity or two. Among the former are Stan Jones' "Song Of The Trail," Marty Robbins' "El Paso," Rex Allen's "Arizona Cowboy" and the Powell-Samuels-Whitcup standard "Take Me Back To My Boots & Saddle." The rarities? Joe Babcock's "Dusty Winds" (yes, he wrote something besides "Doggone Cowboy!") and Pearl Walla's "Will There Be Sagebrush In Heaven."  And the Sons even swing a little with Hoyle Nix's "Big Ball's In Cowtown!"  Twenty tracks in all.

CDs:  $17 ppd through www.thedesertsons.com or The Desert Sons, 3919 E. Whittier St., Tucson, AZ  85711. 

© 2010, Rick Huff 


Sons Of The Pioneers & Guests 75th Anniversary Show Volume I
Sons of the Pioneers and various artists

In the summer of 2009 I had the good fortune of seeing this incarnation of the Sons Of The Pioneers live on their home stage at Shepherd Of The Hills in Branson, Missouri. They were, and are, every bit the classic group that Roy, Bob and Tim would have wanted them to still be. The special "secrets" of the harmony blend were there, perfectly captured and balanced the way Lloyd Perryman would have wanted...and the way their then hospitalized leader Dale Warren would have expected.  The Pioneers, as a group and individually, are gems in the crown of Western Music. As of now the Sons Of The Pioneers are leader Luther Nallie, Ricky Boen, Ken Lattimore, Gary LeMaster, Randy Rudd and Mark Abbott. 

I'm reiterating those positive points in order to say the following. While this DVD release, videoed live at the Texas Troubadour Theatre, certainly maintains enough of the Pioneers' blend to please their fans and to show what the current members offer, too often it simply isn't the true effect of this group. The fault lies in the audio mixing of the performances. Most notably when powerful tenors Randy Rudd and Ken Lattimore are handling harmony chores, the melody line simply isn't there. It's very apparent in some of the earliest songs on the DVD, such as "When Payday Rolls Around," "Red River Valley" and "Whoopee Ti Yi Yo Git Along Little Dogies" (listed as "Doggie" on the jacket, incidentally!). The mix issues may have been due to some young, unsupervised sound mixer or mastering engineer who was not familiar with the songs' melodies. 

Please don't get me wrong. There is much to like about the DVD, and it should certainly have a place in anyone's Sons Of The Pioneers collection. Guest performers with the Pioneers Charlie McCoy and Connie Smith are nice additions as well. Many of the songs that feature the tenors on lead rather than harmony come off with a closer to correct balance. There are phenomenal performances and terrific fiddling, touching tributes and sweet memories in the interview clips. It's just that any media through which we preserve our most valuable treasures need to preserve them accurately. Alas, in my view at least, this particular one doesn't completely fulfill that sacred duty.

DVD:  $18.99 through www.SonsofthePioneersDVD.com

© 2010, Rick Huff 

The Old & The New
Diamond W Wranglers

With this latest release, the "Diamond Dubs" continue to establish their standing as some of the most accomplished creators of the music on our planet!

The title of the CD says it. It's a mixture of new originals and some classics. But the album also says something else. Their harmonic mastery of the genre is demonstrated, and we find clear proof that there's room to expand creatively within Western music's basic framework. With brilliant arrangements like their take on "Cool Water" the war horses come off seeming as fresh as real cool water! Their "Goodbye Old Paint" is the popular meld of that song with "I'm Leavin' Cheyenne" and it's done elegantly. Townes van Zandt's enigmatic "Pancho & Lefty" is more tempo driven in their hands. Charlie Daniels' "Billy The Kid" is here in a show-stopping form (Stu Suart proves he can 'Jimi Hendrix' with thte best of 'em and still bring Western music audiences to their feet in roaring approval)! "Tom Dooley" and "Chant Of The Plains" round out the classic content.

Originals here include Stuart's terrific horse tale "El Comancho" and "Cyclone Song" (a track I'd bet Bob Nolan would have been happy to claim) and Jim Farrell's dramatic outlaw ballad "Seven Days." All are likely candidates to be picked up by other artists. And the band takes one novelty step toward making their case for all music to have been "cowboy" in origin with "They Do Run!"

This CD is great fun, great music...Great Scott, you aren't ordering it yet?!

CD:  $20 ppd through www.diamondwwranglers.com or from Diamond W Wranglers, PO Box 444, Towanda, KS  67144 or call toll free 1-866-830-8283.

© 2010, Rick Huff 

True Love
Rebecca Linda Smith

Rebecca Linda Smith brings a Doris Day-reminiscent vocal quality to the task posed in this CD project, and strong production values help put it all across.  Smith's performance and the sure-footed instrumental backing from Mike Shrimp's band rise above some occasional well-intentioned lyrics that fail to fit the musical phrasing that hosts them. 

Former Shenandoah lead singer Marty Raybon joins Smith on a Randy Albright's Country ballad "Not Knowing Anymore." It's a pretty nice one and it is the CD's strongest track. Another good effort is the song "Come As You Are" from Austin Cunningham and Sunny Ross. Beyond that there are two essentially Western tracks on the CD. The notes that accompanied the album state that Smith, who has primarily been in the Country Gospel area before this, is moving into more secular material with this release. An evangelistic thread runs through much of it anyway. With the founder of the Christian Country Music Association producing, I suspect it had better!

If Rebecca Linda Smith continues to pursue more secular material...and with her performing gifts I sincerely hope she does...she will definitely benefit if she chooses to employ careful A & R and production guidance in that direction. Hear samples at www.cdbaby.com (search "Rebecca Linda Smith"). 

CDs:  $14.97 ppd through www.renewedrecords.com and www.rlsrenewed.com , and also through www.cdbaby.com and www.backfortybunkhouse.com

© 2010, Rick Huff 

Work in Progress
Broken Chair Band

Todd & Melinda Carter run a small cow-calf outfit in Queen Valley, Arizona called "The Broken Chair."  The brand is his "T" and her "M" run together in a way that makes them resemble, well, a broken chair. So when they formed into a band they naturally just rode for the brand! 

Their second CD release has the feel of a neighborhood band. There are a lot of styles heard in Western music. This duo may have been influenced by a particular Native American style of Country found in Arizona. At least that effect is present, with keyboard, guitar and drum. There are a couple of poems here as well.  "Like Patsy Cline" is fairly obviously a song converted to a poem, in which the guy finds himself "walkin" after midnight' after a nightclub Patsy Cline imitator he's infatuated with turns out to be married. Another poem is "Ridin' Ol' Jug Head," in which the cowboy swears off ever mounting the one-way ticket to broken bones again! The song "You Ain't No Cowman" ties into a rich rancher wannabe with the admonition "don't be thinkin' you deserve this ranch from the comfort of your Cadillac...the ghosts of cowmen, they walk this land...someday they might just take it back!"  Other Western songs include "God Made The Cowboy" and "Can't Stop Progress" which contains the line "you can't stop progress no matter how you try, but you can pick up the pieces after it rolls by..."

They named the CD "Work In Progress." It's true. They say in their cover letter their subjects are drawn from their experiences, and their all-original songs are in a style someone dubbed "Americowboyfolkgrass!"  You'd have to decide if even that fits. 

CDs:  $14 ppd from Broken Chair Band, 735 Tornado Trail, Queen Valley, AZ  85118-7425. Online the CD is available for $12.97 through www.cdbaby.com  (search "Broken Chair Band") and there the digital download is $9.99 and individual songs for $.99. www.brokenchairband.com

© 2010, Rick Huff