Rick Huff’s “Best of the West Reviews,” Fall, 2016

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, other publications, and at CowboyPoetry.com.

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

__________

Selections from “Rick Huff’s Best of the West Reviews,” Fall, 2016, below:

Andy Hedges,  Cowboy Songster Vol. 2
Jared Rogerson, Heaven
Floyd Beard,  Short Grass Country
Teresa BurlesonThe Calf Book
Curio Cowboys, Rose Of Old Pawnee
J. J. Steele, Just Passin’ Thru|
Jerry Bell, High Mountain Memory

 

ahrh

Andy Hedges,  Cowboy Songster Vol. 2

Although not strictly a Western CD by “definition,” all of the songs and recitations (set to Hedges’ often spellbinding guitar treatments) are authentic ones used by cowcamp entertainers.  Or at least they were songs that coulda-woulda-shoulda been so-used!

It’s interesting to note how easily Bob Dylan’s “Walkin’ Down The Line” slips right into place beside “Ragged But Right” or D. J. O’Malley’s “Charlie Rutledge.”  S. Omar Barker’s “Into The West” is set to music here and works well.  In the notes Don Edwards says these cowcamp entertainers were variously known as “musicianers” or “songsters” and maintained “an intensely pure relationship” with their audiences.  That effect is nicely achieved in the recording of this collection.  Here you will find that simple, wholesome clarity that comes with well thought out voice and guitar work … heart to hand and voice to ear.  To good effect for the recording Hedges used his dad’s vintage Harmony Sovereign h1260 guitar, rebuilt with a “harmony conversion.”

Andy Hedges is onto something fresh with this approach and I applaud it!  Eleven tracks.

CD:  yellowhousemusic.com and  andyhedges.com

©2016, Rick Huff

 

bbrh

Baxter Black, Tinsel, Mistletoe & Reindeer Bait

The ever-clever Mr. Black is back for the holidays, with a mixed bag of goodies. Broken into two sections labeled (accurately) “Fun” and “Faith,” the book contains a number of fan favorites from both categories.

In one piece Baxter asks the burning question “What’s Christmas To A Cow?”  Who else would envision bovines choosing whether to believe in Santa Claus or Santa Gertrudis?  Or try “How The Angel Got On Top Of The Tree” with its profoundly painful mental picture conjured up of the angel asking “Santy” the wrong thing at the precisely the wrong time.  There’s a nutty “Christmas Gift Exchange on The Farm” that will make you wonder if that desert air Baxter breaths is full of “provocatives!”  The “Fun” section is chock full of Santy tales for the kidder in all of us.  On Christmas Eve, put the wee ones to bed, then pull this out…and try not to wake everybody up giggling and snorting.

In Part Two (the “Faith” part), the content is obvious and specific.

The book is “gleefully illustrated” (the publisher’s words but I concur) by Wally Badgett, Bob Black, Don Gill, Dave Holl, Charlie Marsh, Herb Mignery and Bill Patterson.  Fifty-six pages.  Recommended!

Hardcover Book:  ISBN 978-0-939343-62-1; $21,95 + s/h through baxterblack.com or call 1-800-654-2550.

©2016, Rick Huff

 

jrrh

Jared Rogerson, Heaven

Rogerson’s fourth CD release continues to justify his slogan “Cowboy Music From The New West,” and he is living proof that our definition of Western Music must hinge on lyric content rather than instrumentation or style.

His “Life’s Too Short Not To Rodeo” is Country Rock musically and it includes the classic Western theme of the city-bound guy opting for the “gentle” bucking arts.  “When it’s Rainin’ Cowboys” describes a tough night at the rodeo.  Tracks that fall squarely into the contemporary Americana category are also present. Most of the songs are Rogerson writes and co-writes, with covers of two songs written by CD co-producer Brenn Hill (“Pictures In The Fire” and “Cowboy Singer Too,” a valid comment on certain Western festivals’ bars for qualifying).  “Why Wyoming” is a wonderfully eerie sung conversation/duet with Devin Rae about a spiritual need to relocate.

Jared Rogerson represents the new “Western.”  Whether you would call his output by that name or not, you need to come to terms with it one way or the other.  Twelve  tracks.  Recommended.

CD:  $18 + $2 s/h through jaredrogerson.com, downloads through most online sources or mail order from Roughstock Records, PO Box 2071, Riverdale, WY  82941.

©2016, Rick Huff

 

rbrh

Floyd Beard,  Short Grass Country

A fine writer and reciter, Floyd Beard offers us another collection of top-drawer cowboy thoughts and delivery.

“If I’ve got any pull I’ll pray that old bull will throw calves of ‘The Buyer’s Type,’” Beard writes in the poem bearing that title.  With equally apt turns of phrase, (and with considerable bravery…considering…), he brings us “One Size Fits All,” an account of his wife’s, er, adventures getting’ dressed to go dancin’.  With a different kind of “bravery” he engages in Spanish dialect humor in the novelty “Papa Noel.”  I’ll let that one sit with you where it will.  A nice appreciation of the solitary cowboy life can be found in “Ain’t A Hermit” and the flip side of it is illustrated in “A Cowboy’s Life Is The Easy Life” (as in “ya gotta be freakin’ kiddin’ me”)!  Butch Hause also provides sensitive guitar support, making this a well produced package.

Covers of others’ works include Luther Lawhon’s “The Good Old Cowboy Days,” E.A. Brininstool’s “Where The Sagebrush Billows Roll,” Sunny Hancock’s “The Bear Tale” and Banjo Patterson’s “Man From Snowy River.”  Nice collection!  Eighteen tracks.

CD:  $15 + $3 s/h from Short Grass Studios, PO Box 124, Kim, CO  81049; floydbeardcowboy.com.

©2016, Rick Huff

 

tbrh

Teresa Burleson, The Calf Book

Poet Teresa Burleson is no stranger to either the Western life or to Western audiences.  Her newest release offers more of her views of the former to the latter.

In “Cowgirl Way” she clearly states and demonstrates that strength comes in different dressing, but also she affirms making a hand doesn’t mean she hands off her feminine side.  The title track “The Calf Book” illustrates it all comes out in the wash, and that is the problem, unfotunately!  In “The Message” she arguably equates the shameful Indian betrayal with loss of rights today. And a particular turn of phrase from “Gettin’ Lucky” caught my ear:  “Visions of cowboys two-stepped in their heads.”  Covers include Luke Reed’s “One-Eyed Jack”;  Larry McWhorter’s brief but dead-on “Therapy”; and on Daron Little’s “The Bell Song” the CD engineer happened to record Burleson singing part of the words she intended to only recite and blended singing with recitation together in post.  Good capture!

Some friends help on the album with music intros and outros.  They include Aarom Meador (guitar/mandolin/Native flute), Devon Dawson (drum/Scottish bodran) and Kristyn Harris (fiddle).  Eleven tracks.

CD:  teresaburlesoncowgirlpoet.com

©2016, Rick Huff

 

ccrh

Curio Cowboys, Rose Of Old Pawnee

This group has a unique and ongoing preservationist mission.  That would be to bring the earliest style of Western Swing forward, with all its quaintly rowdy and somewhat disjointed quirkiness.  So here, straight from what could have been an Edison cylinder or pancake-thick 78 rpm recording, is the newest recording from the Curio Cowboys.

The collection celebrates some of the many early Fred Rose songs, including some from the period he used the pseudonym “Floyd Jenkins.”  Rose became known later to another generation for such standards as “Kaw-liga,” “Roly Poly,” “Take These Chains From My Heart” and “Blue Eyes Cryin’ In The Rain.”  He also was responsible for the now standardized arrangement of “Cattle Call.”

Pick tracks in the style include “Rootie Tootie,” “Low & Lonely,” “I Can’t Go On This Way,” “Home In San Antone,” “Deed I Do,” “Blues In My Mind” and the instrumental “Deep Henderson.”  Jordan Ripley’s vocal on “Deed I Do” is a nice plus and she and husband Byron (from The Tumbleweeds) do the honors on “Texarkana Baby” to its benefit.

When approaching this style, just set your tuning fork aside and relax!  Eighteen tracks.

CD:  $15 from curiocowboys.com.

©2016, Rick Huff

 

 

jjsrh

J. J. Steele, Just Passin’ Thru

J. Steele is one of those cowpoets the fans want to hear from because he has definitely been-there-done-that. In his introduction, Steele admits “I might just break meter in mid-poem cause that’s the way I tell it best.” But it’s real, and that would be the point of the exercise, right?

Alluding to stages of life, Steele clusters his verse into the categories “Summer Range,” “Winter Stubble” and “Home Pasture.”  From Steele’s poem “Frosty” comes the following vivid description:  “ One day this horse kicked Frosty right smack in the face…and where his nose, it used to be, it left him just a place!” Ouch. And Steele also knows from whence came dinner in another verse:  “When I eat my steak, I knew it came hard” and that means “tippin’ my hat to ‘The Crew In The Yard’.”  His verse “Mr. Bud Pie” is a nice horse tale, and you’ll find others that will speak directly to you, particularly if you are from the horse and cow culture.

The collection isn’t Earth-shattering, nor is it intended to be.  It’s just an honest portrayal of some more pieces of the West of today and of times not long passed.  I guess you could say it deals with “the moments and the momentous.”  Sixty-five  pages.

Trade Paperback – ISBN  978-1-4787-7220-0, US $14.95;  outskirtspress.com and jjsteele.com.

©2016, Rick Huff

 

jbrh

Jerry Bell, High Mountain Memory

The newest release from Jerry Bell should again find an appreciative audience, and once again I’m putting in my request for his studio guy to mix Bell’s vocal singing performances more in the forefront.

Bell is a vivid reciter, authentic in tone and content.  Works of Colen Sweeten, Pat Richardson, S. Omar Barker, Sunny Hancock (rather than the “Sony Handcok”  credited here) and Bruce Kiskaddon are always welcome.  Among the songs covered are Tom Russell & Ian Tyson’s “Rose of San Joaquin,” Larry Bastian & Ernest Berghoff’s “Cowboy Bill,” Marty Robbins’ “Old Red,” Ernest & James Schaper and Bill Barwick’s “Don’t Know Much About Waltzin’” and Lucky Whipple’s “Bucking Horse Ballet.”  Two worthy Bell originals round it out (“Ride ‘Em Cowboy” and the title track “High Mountain Memory”).  Fourteen tracks.

I do like Jerry Bell’s style of delivery in both his spoken and singing modes.  Now if we can just get his “mixologist” to let us fully hear him sing…

CD:  $15 + s/h from Jerry Bell, 20 Foxtail Lane, Riverton, WY  82501.

©2016, Rick Huff

 

TALENT by Rod Nichols (1942-2007)

talent2016

TALENT
by Rod Nichols (1942-2007)

Lord knows why the boss ever hired him,
he wuzn’t what you’d call a hand,
he stayed in our way or in trouble,
not much of a cowboy that man.

I think that the boss would’ve fired him,
just waited to find the right way,
til after our supper one evenin’
he took a mouth-organ and played.

It might have been Red River Valley
or Down In The Valley so low
or Kathleen or Come To The Bower,
to this day I don’t rightly know.

But that doesn’t really much matter
cause whatever tune that he played,
when that rascal pup started playin’
we all wuz right glad that he’d stayed.

Have you felt the warm wind on the prairie,
the soft mourning call of a dove,
then you may have some sort of feelin’
for what we wuz all thinkin’ of.

The cares of the day soon forgotten,
they vanished without any trace,
there wuzn’t an hombre among us
without a big smile on his face.

The Lord gives to each man a talent
to use or to hide as he may,
there wuzn’t no doubt ’bout his talent
whenever that feller had played.

Lord grant me just one little favor,
please help me a bit now and then,
to call on just half of such talent
to shine as a light before men.

© 2002, Rod Nichols, used with permission

Texas poet Rod Nichols is greatly missed by his many friends. He wrote this poem soon after September 11, 2001, and he told us, “… I have never seen so much interest in cowboy poetry, story telling, music and western art as I have seen since the Sept. 11th attack. I think folks are beginning to look for answers in our past and the American cowboy fills the bill. Here is one more that speaks to the use of the talents that the Good Lord has given us all whatever they may be.”

Find more about Rod Nichols and much more of his poetry at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1939 uncaptioned photo is thought to be related to another photo and is described as, “Cowboy in front of bunkhouse, Quarter Circle U Ranch, Big Horn County, Montana.” It’s a part of the Farm Security Administration collection of the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog from The Library of Congress. You can browse the collection here.

Find more about this particular photograph here.

The image was taken by Arthur Rothstein (1915-1985), a student of Roy Styker. Stryker conceived the documentary photography project for the FSA. Find more about Arthur Rothstein here.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but for any other use of the poem, please request permission. The photograph is in the public domain.)

STORY WITH A MORAL by Waddie Mitchell

dea624

STORY WITH A MORAL
by Waddie Mitchell

Now I know there’s things worse
that make cowpunchers curse
And I reckon it’s happened to us all
Though it’s been years, since, you can bet
when I think of it yet,
It still makes my old innards crawl.

I was makin’ a ride
to bring in one hide
That hadn’t showed up in the gather
I was riding upstream,
daydreamin’ a dream,
When I caught there was somethin’ the matter.

Near some quaking asp trees
I had caught in the breeze
A stench that was raunchy and mean
And I reckoned as how
it might be the old cow
So I rode to a bend in the stream.

Sure enough, that cow lied
in the crick there and died
Hard telling how long she’d been been there
She was bloated and tight
was a horrible sight!
She was oozing and slipping her hair.

Her eye sockets were alive
with maggots that thrive
On dead flesh, putrid yellow and green,
An’ the hot sun burning down
turning pink things to brown
Spewing oily gunk in the stream.

I spurred upwind fast
to get away from the blast
Of the heavy stench the cow made
And I felt bad seein’s how
I’d lost the old cow
So I pulled up near a tree in the shade.

Then, I got sick to the core
rememberin’ just moments before
I’d done something that made me feel worse
Not thirty yards down
I’d stepped off to the ground
And drank till my belly near burst!

For months after it
just the thought made me spit
And I’d live it over like a bad dream.
And the moral, I think
is: if you must take a drink,
Never, ever, remount and ride upstream.

© Waddie Mitchell, reprinted with permission

This Waddie Mitchell poem, a favorite of many, is included in his recent award-winning book, 100 Poems. He also has a recent CD, Sweat Equity. Both the book and CD are produced by Western Jubilee Recording Company.

Waddie’s bio tells, “From his earliest days on the remote Nevada ranches where his father worked, Waddie was immersed in the cowboy way of entertaining, the art of spinnin’ tales in rhyme and meter that came to be called cowboy poetry, a Western tradition that is as rich as the lifestyle that gave birth to it.” Since then he’s been a great ambassador for cowboy poetry. He was instrumental in creating the first cowboy poetry gathering and has appeared on national television and radio and at gatherings and events across the West. He has received countless awards, including the respected Wrangler Award and the prestigious Nevada Heritage Award.

Find more about Waddie Mitchell at Western Jubilee  and in our feature at CowboyPoetry.com. Find order information for 100 Poems here and see our review at CowboyPoetry.com.

This June 2016 photo is by New Mexico rancher, poet, and writer Deanna Dickinson McCall.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but request permission for any other uses.)

GOOD CLEAN FUN by Rodney Nelson

 

haakon
GOOD CLEAN FUN
by Rodney Nelson

I remember making hay with Dad,
We’d put it up in stacks—
Dad used to use a stackframe,
and filled it to the max.

Then sometimes, but not often,
he’d say “Rodney, you’ve the knack.
Grab a fork—I’ll lift you up,
and you top off the stack.”

Reluctantly, I’d take the fork.
He’d lift me up on top—
I’d stack that hay to 30 feet,
before he’d finally stop.

Then he’d drive up really close,
I could see him down beneath
As I stepped out on the pushoff
on the end of the stacker teeth.

He’d back up a little ways,
I hoped he’d try no tricks
But giving me rides on that farmhand,
was how he got his kicks!

Wasn’t long and I’d get mad.
I’d had these rides before—
He’d slide the pushoff almost in,
Then he’d run it out once more!

“Come on, Dad, let me down,
this really isn’t fair”
Then he’d point the teeth toward the ground
and leave me dangling in the air!

I could hear him laughing down below,
in hopeless choking mirth.
and I’d wonder if I’d ever again
put my feet upon the earth!

It was no use to argue,
Dad wouldn’t quite ’till he was done,
But I always, always wondered,
How could this be so fun?!

Well, our yard light burned out last year,
and since I’d run that farmhand all my life,
I knew we could fix it in a minute
if I could convince the wife!

Wasn’t easy to convince her,
she said a housewife was her role,
Though mad she was, she climbed aboard,
Took a ride to the top of the pole.

I said, “Sweetheart, I’m so proud of you”
when she fixed the light—
“And you’re especially lovely when you’re angry,
You really are a sight.”

“Let me down, you worthless cur,”
She was having a full-fledged fit—
I couldn’t pass up a chance like this,
So I drove around a bit!

GOOD, CLEAN FUN—I said to myself
as she called me a hopeless sap,
My grin got even wider
as I made another lap!

“Honey, just enjoy yourself
and isn’t it a fright—
It’s the first time that I’ve carried you,
since our wedding night!”

I finally shut the tractor off
Let her sit up there a while,
Promised her I’d let her down,
if she would only smile!

Oh it was fun—but there’s a problem,
I can see it now, I can …
It’s gonna’ take some might sweet talkin’
when that light burns out again!

© 1989, Rodney Nelson
Maybe we’ll make this “hay week.”

North Dakota rancher, poet, columnist, and Senior Pro Rodeo champion Rodney Nelson recites this audience favorite in a video from the 2008 Western Folklife Center National Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Rodney’s daughter-in-law Sara Nelson shared photos of Rodney’s grandson Haakon in a past Picture the West at CowboyPoetry.com.

The photos were taken in August, 2014. Haakon was out in the hay field watching his father make some square bales and the baler popped out this little bale that was just his size. He was two at the time.

Find more about Rodney Nelson, some of his poetry, and information about his books and CDs at CowboyPoetry.com. He writes the popular “Up Sims Creek” column in Farm and Ranch Guide.

(Please respect copyright. You can share this poem and photo with this post, but please request permission for any additional uses.)

NO REST FOR THE HORSE anonymous

Since every day is Labor Day in the ranching world, here’s a tribute to another sort of tireless worker:

thrasher

NO REST FOR THE HORSE
author anonymous

There’s a union for teamster and waiter,
There’s a union for cabman and cook,
There’s a union for hobo and preacher,
And one for detective and crook.

There’s a union for blacksmith and painter,
There is one for the printer, of course;
But where would you go in this realm of woe,
To discover a guild for the horse?

He can’t make a murmur in protest,
Though they strain him both up and down hill,
Or force him to work twenty hours
At the whim of some drunken brute’s will.

Look back at our struggle for freedom—
Trace our present day’s strength to its source,
And you’ll find that man’s pathway to glory,
Is strewn with the bones of the horse.

The mule is a fool under fire;
The horse, although frightened, stands true,
And he’d charge into hell without flinching
‘Twixt the knees of the trooper he knew.

When the troopers grow old they are pensioned,
Or a berth or a home for them found;
When a horse is worn out they condemn him,
And sell him for nothing a pound.

Just think, the old pet of some trooper
Once curried and rubbed twice a day,
Now drags some damned ragpicker’s wagon,
With curses and blows for his pay.

I once knew a grand king of racers,
The best of a cup-wining strain;
They ruined his knees on a hurdle,
For his rider’s hat covered no brain.

I met him again, four years later,
On his side at the foot of a hill,
With two savages kicking his ribs,
And doing their work with a will.

I stroked the once velvety muzzle,
I murmured the old name again,
He once filled my purse with gold dollars;
And this day I bought him for ten.

His present address is “Sweet Pastures,”
He has nothing to do but eat,
Or loaf in the shade on the green, velvet grass,
And dream of the horses he beat.

Now, a dog—well, a dog has a limit;
After standing for all that’s his due,
He’ll pack up his duds some dark evening,
And shine out for scenes which are new.

But a horse, once he’s used to his leather,
Is much like the old-fashioned wife;
He may not be proud of his bargain,
But still he’ll be faithful through life.

And I envy the merciful teamster
Who can stand at the bar and say:
“Kind Lord, with the justice I dealt my horse,
Judge Thou my soul today.”

…Anonymous

Most are familiar with this poem from respected horseman Randy Rieman’s outstanding recitation. Randy’s source for the poem was Songs of Horses, an anthology edited by Robert Frothingham (1865-1937) in 1920. (Find links to digitized versions of the book here.

We also found the same “No Rest for the Horse” poem under a different title, “To a Quiet But Useful Class,” in a 1902 edition of Life magazine. There is no author attributed in that instance, either. You can see the poem in that Life magazine in an edition that has been digitized by Google Book Search, on page 488.

This c. 1910 photo is titled, “Harvesting machine pulled by 32 horses in Spokane, Washington.” The photo is from The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Find more here.

This poem and photograph are in the public domain.

WHEN YOU’RE THROWED by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

thrasher

 

WHEN YOU’RE THROWED
by Bruce Kiskaddon (1878-1950)

If a feller’s been astraddle since he’s big enough to ride,
And has had to throw a saddle onto every sort of hide;
Though it’s nothin’ they take pride in, most of fellers I have knowed,
If they ever done much ridin’, has at various times got throwed.

It perhaps is when you’re startin’ on a round up some fine day,
That you feel a bit onsartin’ ’bout some little wall eyed bay.
Fer he swells to beat the nation while yore cinchin’ up the slack,
And he keeps a elevation in your saddle at the back.

He starts rairin’ and a jumpin’ and he strikes when you git near.
But you cuss him and you thump him till you git him by the ear.
Then your right hand grabs the saddle and you ketch a stirrup too,
And you aim to light astraddle like a wholly buckaroo.

But he drops his head and switches and he gives a back’ards jump.
Out of reach your stirrup twitches and your right spur grabs his rump.
And, “Stay with him!” shouts some feller. But you know it’s hope forlorn.
And you feel a streak of yeller as you choke the saddle horn.

Then you feel one rein droppin’ and you know he’s got his head,
And your shirt tail’s out and floppin’ and the saddle pulls like lead.
Then it ain’t no use a tryin’ for your spurs begin to slip
Now you’re upside down and flyin’ and horn tears from your grip.

Then you get a vague sensation as upon the ground you roll,
Like a vi’lent separation twixt your body and your soul.
And you land again a hummick where you lay and gap fer breath,
And there’s sumpthin’ grips your stummick like the awful clutch of death.

Yes the landscape round you totters when at last you try to stand,
And you’re shaky on your trotters and your mouth is full of sand.
They all swear you beat a circus or a hoochy koochy dance,
Moppin’ up the canon’s surface with the busom of your pants.

There’s fellers gives perscriptions how them bronchos should be rode.
But there’s few that gives descriptions of the times when they got throwed.

…by Bruce Kiskaddon

As we’ve told many times about Bruce Kiskaddon, he worked for ten years as a cowboy, starting in 1898 in southeastern Colorado’s Picketwire area. He published short stories and nearly 500 poems. His poems are among the most admired and the most recited classic poems.

Much of what is known about Kiskaddon and his work comes from Open Range, Bill Siems’ monumental collection of Kiskaddon’s poetry. Bill Siems also collected Bruce Kiskaddon’s short stories in a book called “Shorty’s Yarns.” Find more in the Kiskaddon features at CowboyPoetry.com.

This 1940 photograph by Russell Lee (1903-1986) is titled, “Cowboy being thrown from bucking horse during the rodeo of the San Angelo Fat Stock Show, San Angelo, Texas.” It’s from The Library of Congress U.S. Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Black & White Photographs collection. Find more about it here.

This poem and photograph are in the public domain.