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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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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.
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Find other recent reviews here and hundreds of previous reviews on CowboyPoetry.com.
Selections from “Rick Huff’s Best of the West Reviews,” Summer, 2018, below:
• CowboyPoetry.com MASTERS: VOLUME TWO, the poetry of S. Omar Barker
• “V” The Gypsy Cowbelle TRIBAL PILGRIM
• Pegie Douglas & The Badger Sett Band THE MUSIC OF BADGER CLARK, Volume II
• Ron Secoy COWBOY PSALMS
• Chris Mortenson I’LL ROPE YOU IN THE SUNSET
• Barry Ward COYOTES AND CATTLE
MASTERS: VOLUME TWO, the poetry of S. Omar Barker
The MASTERS of cowboy poetry series from CowboyPoetry.com showcases both the masters of writing Western poetic words and masters of delivering those words. It just doesn’t get any better than that.
MASTERS: VOLUME TWO brings us the poetry of S. Omar Barker (1894-1985) on two jam-packed CDs. Included are the most famous of his works and plenty that may well become more famous now. As for the caliber of the reciters, the attuned who read this will only need last names of most: Hedges, Rieman, McMahan, Morton, Steiger, Nelson, Black, Beard, Swearingen, Zarzyski, Isaacs, Groethe, Snider, Hollenbeck and the list goes wonderfully on.
With a total of sixty tracks here to amuse and educate, this collection makes me, born and bred New Mexican, particularly proud to recall that Mr. Barker was one as well. Highly recommended. Lovers of content should be very contented!
CD: 2-CD Set $25 ppd through CowboyPoetry.com, PO Box 1107, Lexington, VA 24450
© 2018, Rick Huff
“V” The Gypsy Cowbelle
In the listening and the reading, releases from “V” The Gypsy Cowbelle are always trips to fresh new places, and CD number 5 for her is no exception. She educates and entertains anew in this spritely collection of originals put together at various locations across the course of four years.
Top musical hands joining her include Ernie Martinez, John Magnie, Johnny Neill, Jon Chandler, saw man Robert Armstrong and “V’s” longtime friend and mentor, the late Liz Masterson, to whom the album is dedicated and who harmonizes on an Amelia Earhart-inspired song “Dawn In The Night.” Each track has elements to recommend it, but other picks include the saga song “Resolve,” “Long-Legged Cowboy” and the song “East To Go West,” which may become for “V” what “If I Hadn’t Seen The West” has for Joyce Woodson.
It’s encyclopedically annotated in a booklet (and all sides of the cover), so settle back, read and listen. “V” is a journey— for some still a discovery—well worth making. Fourteen tracks, and recommended.
CD: $20 ppd through gypsycowbelle.com, CDbaby or from Gypsy Cowbelle, PO Box 809, Thermopolis, WY 82443
© 2018, Rick Huff
THE MUSIC OF BADGER CLARK, Volume II
Pegie Douglas & The Badger Sett Band
In listening to this release, I was particularly struck by the skillfulness with which Clark’s poetry has been set to music. Creating songs using classic cowboy verse is one of those classic slippery slopes, but Pegie Douglas just artfully skates along it. The tracks here are perfectly thought through and well executed. Now there are more successful Badger Clark-based songs from which to choose than just “Spanish Is The Lovin’ Tongue.” And remember this is “Volume Two,” too!
The poems used here were drawn from the Clark collections Sun & Saddle Leather, Skylines & Woodsmoke and Cowboy Poetry: Classic Poems & Prose by Badger Clark. South Dakotan Douglas obviously created these works as a labor of love to fellow South Dakotan Clark who, incidentally, was that state’s first Poet Laureate. Some are mixes of song and recitation nicely rendered by Ned Westphall. In addition to him and Ms. Douglas (lead vocals & guitar), other members of the Badger Sett band (they do “sets” of Badger’s music: get it?) are Cheryl Janssens (bass), Marcia Kenobbie (lead/harmony vocals & mandolin) and Katie Lautenschlager (violin).
From inception to performance, this CD is Top Drawer all the way. Ten tracks. Highly recommended!
CD: Contact Pegie Douglas, PO Box 925, Hill City, SD 57745 or visit pegiedouglas.com for information.
© 2018, Rick Huff
Rather than being a specific statement of content, Cowboy Psalms is actually the title track of the newest release from Oklahoma poet Ron Secoy. In truth most of these tracks are religious, some less so. But all are lessons.
Picks here include the title cut “Cowboy Psalms” (equating herding herds and herding words), “Outlaw” (an O. Henry-worthy encounter at a campfire), the barroom braggin’ piece “Tall Tail” (his spelling not mine), “Adam & Eve” as cowfolk, “Ol’ Bill” and “Mustang,” an unusual healing horse story set to Indian flute accompaniment.
Secoy’s delivery is straightforward, clear and deliberate, as are the points of the stories. When I received it, I had first thought the CD must be an early release sent ahead of cover art and a tray card being ready. But in phoning Secoy, I found this was not the case, or rather, I was looking at the complete case! I fear it will hurt the album gaining radio/online airplay and certainly will knock it out of any award eligibility in the Fall. But it’s listenable and orderable, and maybe that’s the artist’s main consideration. Fourteen tracks.
CD: $15 + $5 s/h from Ron Secoy, 272826 Gatlin, Duncan, OK 73533 and through ronsecoy.com
© 2018, Rick Huff
I’LL ROPE YOU IN THE SUNSET
In a past review I drew a comparison between Chris Mortenson’s vocal styling and that of Neil Young, which Mortenson writes he finds “a bit puzzling.” Well, puzzle onward! For me it still holds true. To my ear on most of the tracks, something in Mortenson’s swoop onto and casual glide over notes still evokes a bit of Neil Young, particularly in Young’s more recent material where he sings closer to Mortenson’s vocal range. And a certain rock sensitivity on Mortenson’s part is suggested by the presence of the track called “Missing Glenn Frey.”
Basically this release is a mix of ballads and saga songs. Picks include Bob Parson’s “When His Eyes Are Closed,” Randy Abel’s unusual and compassionate “Sgt. Eli’s Silver Mine,” Mortenson’s own “Shawn Wayne” and his “Eight Second Blues.” The offering is enhanced significantly by the instrumental support on varying tracks of Ryan Shupe (fiddle), Bob Parson & Josh Ward (electric guitar), Scott Olson (harmonica & guitar), Ernie Sites (mandolin & acoustic lead guitar), Kelin Gibbons (banjo), Karl Gibbons (dobro), Greg Forbush (pedal steel), Tony Messerly (banjitar) and Zan Summers (drums). Fifteen tracks.
It definitely should please Mortenson fans.
CD: $15 ppd from Chris Mortenson, PO Box 405, Paradise, UT 84328
© 2018, Rick Huff
COYOTES AND CATTLE
The newest from The Bear strikes me as containing more first person reflections and End-of-Life’s-Trail songs than usual. Am I mistaken, or is he trying to tell us something? What am I saying. Barry Ward frequently tries to tell us something!
Seven of the tracks here are Ward originals. Picks among them include “Ruts Of The Santa Fe Trail,” the wistful title track “Coyotes & Cattle,” “That Old Barn,” “Saddle Up” and the rousing voice and guitar showpiece “Bandito,” even though its religious U-turn ending might otherwise make me veer off. Among the covers we’ll name as picks are Marvin O’Dell’s “Keep A Candle In The Window,” the Indian-intoned “Wayfaring Stranger,” fellow Kansan Larry Hannon’s 1995 Will Rogers paean “The Man From Coo-Wees-Coo-Wee” and Gordon Mote’s “Wake Up Dancin’.”
Barry Ward is a former WMA Male Performer of the Year and his CD Coyotes & Cattle will still give you a good indication why. All in all, it’s another solid horse in his string! Thirteen tracks. Recommended.
CD: $15 + $3 s/h from Barry Ward, PO Box 185, Eureka, KS 67045 and through BarryWardMusic.com