Rick Huff’s “Best of the West Reviews,” Spring, 2017

Rick Huff reviews Western music and cowboy poetry releases in his “Rick Huff’s Best of the West Reviews” column in The Western Way from the Western Music Association and in other publications.

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.

From Rick Huff, February, 2012:

Policy of the Column: It should be understood by artists sending material that it is being done for review consideration. Submitting such material does not ensure that it will be reviewed. Also, predominantly religious material is not accepted for review in the column. If further clarification is needed, contact Rick Huff, PO Box 8442, Albuquerque, NM 87198-8442.

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

Find other recent reviews here and hundreds of previous reviews on CowboyPoetry.com.

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Selections from “Rick Huff’s Best of the West Reviews,” Spring, 2017, below:

CowboyPoetry.com MASTERS
Sam DeLeeuw COWBOY SEASONS
Almeda Bradshaw TRIBUTE
Sam Mattise SHADOW DUST
• 
Mary Kaye TAKE ME BACK TO TEXAS
• Joyce Woodson LIVING THE COWBOY DREAM
• Rich Price WESTERN SONGS
•  Panhandle Cowboys COWS, HORSES & COWGIRLS
•  Lone Chimney Films HOME ON THE RANGE
•  Wall-Eyed Moles WALL-EYED MOLES

 

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MASTERS
CowboyPoetry.com (Larry McWhorter, Sunny Hancock, Ray Owens & J.B. Allen)

In reviewing some releases, you really feel you should write a book! This is one of them.

This masterful (no pun intended) collection demonstrates not only the cowboy savvy and writing skill of this quartet, but also consummate storytelling ability in the delivery of their words and those of others. Here’s Larry McWhorter taking your emotions on a tearful trip with “Black Draught” and your face in a broad grin with “The Red Cow.” Plus his “Waitin’ On The Drive” and “Advice To The Traveler” are here and he closes with H.H. Knibbs’ “Where The Horses Come To Drink.” Then Sunny Hancock feeds you his magic with “The Horse Trade,” “A Bear Tale” and “The High Steppin’ Kind” with dessert being S. Omar Barker’s “The Cowboy’s Heaven!” While (by his own admission) Ray Owens might not have had quite the prowess of delivery his album mates possessed, his wonderful, often-covered words live on as his strength in “Color Blind,” “Tracks That Won’t Blow Out” and “The Saddle His Granddaddy Rode” and he earnestly recites J.B. Allen’s “A Rare Treat” (which this collection surely is). And Allen himself closes the collection with “The Medicine Keepers,” “Reasons For Stayin’, ” “Kindred Spirits” and Buck Ramsey’s “Anthem.” For many, each of these is a poet’s poet. Listen and you’ll know it! Seventeen
works.

CD:  CowboyPoetry.com

©2017, Rick Huff

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COWBOY SEASONS
Sam DeLeeuw

On this, Ms. D’s third release, some tracks are cowboy season-specific, some are all-season, but all of these poetic portions are seasoned to the cow culture taste.

Album picks include the cowboy lack-of awareness poem “Waitin'” and what could be the other side of it (“Cussed Old Cowboy”) or its all-too-plausible companion work “Dear John!” Also pick-worthy are the title track “Cowboy Seasons” and the sweet verse about girl and horse called “Jack.” Appropriate and pleasant guitar support for a number of the tracks is provided by David Anderson.

DeLeeuw takes serious turns in “The Rancher” (watching his life be auctioned away), “The Long Haul” (about commitment to the ranching life for better or worse) and “Prairie Phantom” with its sound effects of storm and stampede. You’ll find interesting perspectives in works like “Smell Of Horse” and a couple of tall tales (a lady Pecos Bill stars in “Hilda & The Tornado” and you’ll meet a giggling, hiccuping cow in “Big Windy”). And there’s a true O.Henry ending waiting in “Blue-Eyed Stranger.” A confession: I’m partial to Sam DeLeeuw’s cow noises. Twenty-one tracks.

CD: cowgalpoet.com

©2017, Rick Huff

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TRIBUTE
Almeda Bradshaw

As a rule I have not reviewed two- or three-song ETs, but the ever-increasing popularity of downloading individual songs has prompted a re-think on it.

Almeda Bradshaw won kudos across Cochise County in Arizona for her tribute song to slain sheriff (and cowboy) Larry Dever called “Larry Dever Did.”  She was inspired to create it after reading a book on the subject of his death that asked if it was accidental or murder.  Almeda fell into the category that believed the latter was true, and has now released the song for its eager fans to own.  Also on the ET is the poem “Cowboy” (by John Antrobus) which she adapted slightly in setting it to music.  Both songs feature sterling production values and performances from Almeda and players Lance Bendiksen (keyboards, accordion, harmonica, harmony vocals);  Ernie Martinez (banjo, dobro);  Johnny Neil & Nancy Steinburger (fiddles);  Dave Janssen (bass guitar) and Christian Teele (percussion).  Both of these “tribute” songs are worth your time and money to download.

(Song downloads available through almedam2bmusic.com/tribute)

©2017, Rick Huff

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SHADOW DUST
Sam Mattise

In his note accompanying the CD, singer/songwriter/poet Sam Mattise (rhymes with “ice”) said, “It’s a little different from most albums you hear and you may not care for it.” Trust me, Sam. I care for it, a whole bunch!

Vocally Mattise is somewhat reminiscent of Cat Stevens. He and his fellow musicians have proffered New Orleans style blues in Idaho for seventeen years under the name The Bitterbrush Blues Band, and the influences are brought to their Western material. It’s a great effect. Gotta say just hearing the swinging funky opening notes of the album’s first song “All Strung Out” brought a smile to my jaded face. All of the collection’s Western tracks (ten of the sixteen) I would call “picks,” but some I would elevate to “superb.” They are “Drover’s Camp” and “They Come Prancin'” (both written with A.K.
Moss), “Grandpa’s Saddle” (written with Tony Reed), “Echoes” and the spoken “Dreamin'” (both written with Charlie Camden). The other two co-writers on the CD are Mike Rupert and Gordon Peterson.

At least by subject content, some of the tracks would fall more into the Americana slot. Some of the picks there include the previously mentioned “All Strung Out,” “El Niño Blues” and “Me & Jack.” If Western is to grow, it will happen partly through other elements being brought intelligently and carefully into it. I hope we get to hear much more of this! Highly recommended!

CD:  sammattise.com

©2017, Rick Huff

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TAKE ME BACK TO TEXAS 
Mary Kaye

The title track is not the “Take Me Back To Texas” you might be thinking it is. This one is Mary Kaye’s all the way. Of course she makes “Streets Of Laredo.” “Leavin’ Cheyenne” and “Git Along Little Dogies” hers as well, just as much as she does her musical adaptation of Frank Desprez’s “Lasca.”

If all of that seems to have a familiar ring to it, it could be because this collection “takes you back” to releases from Mary Kaye’s earlier albums, some tried and true tracks with the main emphasis being on danceability, be it Swing, Waltz, Two-Step or You-Name-It. It will be particularly appreciated by late-comers to the powerful performance skills of Mary Kaye. She uses the word “sass” to describe her attitude songs. I’ve used it as well. That term works big-time to impart the effect of “Fringe,” “Girl Meets West” or “Grit Grace & Balin’ Twine”…not to mention her early career song “The Real Thing” and
even “The Prairie Preacher.”

Whether Take Me Back To Texas marks a re-visit for you or a new discovery, this Mary Kaye replay will be welcome. And—surprise, surprise—I’m recommending it! Fourteen tracks.

CD:  mary-kaye.com

©2017, Rick Huff

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LIVING THE COWBOY DREAM
Joyce Woodson

Once again Joyce Woodson “smooths” you along the trails of her own personal Western dream!

One of the consistently interesting aspects of Woodson’s releases is her ability to expand the territory covered by Western—not through experimentation, just following natural rivulets. Examples here are “Don & Diane,” “Souvenir,” “Girl On A Pony,” “Thank Jack,” “She’s In Love With Her Horse” and “You Couldn’t Buy That View.” And watch how many of these you will wind up hearing done by others.

For those who want to watch for Woodson to issue more songs for like “If I Hadn’t Seen The West,” check out “The Hidden Trail.” And two of her newer “most-requesteds” are here (“He Sang For Me” about Roy Rogers coming to see a kid in the hospital—something Roy touring with Hi Busse and the Frontiersmen managed to do at nearly every booking, and “That’s What A Pal Would Do”). Plus you’ll find some fresh views of classic Western scenes in “A Cowboy Far From Home” and the title track “Living The Western Dream.” Her many fans will eat it up.

Recommended, as always! Twelve tracks.

CD: joycewoodson.com

©2017, Rick Huff

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WESTERN SONGS
Rich Price
Here is the newest collection of big production writes and co-writes by “The Singing Sierran” Rich Price. Once again Price is shored up by an executive cadre of veteran performers the likes of which you will seldom see! Former members of Elvis Presley’s legendary back-up singers, The Jordanaires, bring rich harmony to the plate; Joey “The Cowpolka King” Miskulin has brought his considerable talents to it; harmonica legend Charlie McCoy, longtime player and producer Jimmy Capps with Harold Bradley; Brad
Alpin; Andy Reiss; and Bob Mater round it out. The mind boggles!

The “Big West” feel pervades, even on some decidedly non-Western tracks on this CD entitled “Western Songs,” such as “NashvilleTennessee” and “Blue Caribbean.” At least cowboys are in attendance lyrically on tracks like “Fast Lane” and “Baby’s Love.” More in line thematically are the CD’s pick tracks “Santa Fe Special” and “Lone Star Over Texas.” Vocally Price drifts leisurely onto and around the pitch, but his folks—both players and buyers—appear to be used to it. Twelve tracks.

CD:  iTunes and other outlets

©2017, Rick Huff

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COWS, HORSES & COWGIRLS 
Panhandle Cowboys

After a three year hiatus (at least from recording), the duo known as the Panhandle Cowboys has returned. Better engineered and mastered this time around, this album pretty much lets them be them.

Farmer Dave Fulfs is an accomplished Burl Ives-type singer on these original tracks. J.B. Barber contributes poetic narrations on eight of them, with nice support from Bodie Dominguez (guitar, bass & harmonica) and Elliott Marks (fiddle). The traditional style songwriting here strikes me as being particularly intelligent and suits Fulfs’ delivery well. One technical puzzlement: I don’t fully understand why Barber’s EQ (tone on his voice) and presence varies from one track to the next, but, whatever.

Picks include “Prairie Waltz,” “Coyote Swing,” “Blackfoot Joe,” “Cowboy Trail,” “The New Outfit,” “Thirty & Found” and “A P{lace Called Idaho.” It’s a nice little collection, and should find favor with the folks who take their Western Americana straight. Sixteen tracks.

CD: $15 ppd through farmerdave@turbonet.com or by calling for arrangements (509) 336-1616 and downloads are available through cdbaby.com.

©2017, Rick Huff

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HOME ON THE RANGE
Lone Chimney Films (various artists)

Here is the kind of film and soundtrack people keep hoping will appear: a movie about a Western subject that actually uses Western Music. Of course the subject actually is a Western song, but that wouldn’t stop some people from using Hip Hop!

The song in the spotlight appears a number of times, reasonably. Film actor Mathew Greer, Michael Martin Murphey and Sons Of The Pioneers versions of it are present, plus a finale featuring an “ensemble” of Mr. Murphey; Barry Ward; Rex Allen, Jr.; Hot Rize; Riders In The Sky; Cherokee Maidens; Uche; Bobby J. Edwards and Jesse Friesen…and KANSAS! The original song “Western Home” from Noah Trammell and Elena Henry should be lauded, and other notable contributors include the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s John McEuen. Individual tracks of interest include Connie Dover’s “I Am Going To The West,” Skip Gorman’s “When The Work’s All Done This Fall,” “Prairie Home Lullabye” from the outstanding harmony group Cherokee Maidens, the Diamond W Wranglers’ “Rolling Kansas Plains” and a rare home recording of “Zebra Dun” from one of radio’s early singing cowboys Roy Faukner.

It’s a monumental achievement, done in tribute to what is arguably the most important cowboy song of them all. Proceeds help support the maintenance of the original “Home On The Range” cabin in Smith County, Kansas. Fifteen tracks.

CD: lonechimneyfilms.org

©2017, Rick Huff

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WALL-EYED MOLES
Wall-Eyed Moles
In truth the musical collaboration of these folks predates their name by about a decade and a half. But enter now the Wall-Eyed Moles!

Like all good moles, they’ve given themselves names. Jeannie Cahill is “Victor Mole,” Jerome Campbell is ” Vance Mole” and Jon Messenger is—(whoa, horsey)—”Vivian Mole(??)” So fitting. And then they get down to serious music making! In fact this represents some of the absolute best work yet captured on a recording by Jon “Vivian” Messenger! The rowdy attitude that marks The Moles (is there a “Mark” Mole too?) is all over Tom Russell’s “Tonight We Ride” in lingo and delivery, and I swear Messenger’s
delivery of Russell’s “The Sky Above & The Mud Below” rivals, if not surpasses, Russell’s original.

There is a thoroughly cool a capella version of Tim Spencer’s “Over Nevada.” Some of the more familiar songs covered are provided with fresh coats, but most intriguing is the inclusion of songs not commonly thought of as Western. Cases in point: Steve Earle’s “Me & The Eagle,” Van Morrison’s “Moondance” or opening and closing “Ghost Riders In The Sky” with part of Led Zepplin’s “Stairway To Heaven.”

The CD closes with Messenger’s heartfelt recitation to music of Buck Ramsey’s “Anthem.” It’s line “we’ll be good and we’ll be free” could stand as a Mole Mission Statement. Recommended all over the place! Thirteen tracks.

CD:  www.facebook.com/walleyedmolesjeanneandjerome.com

©2017, Rick Huff