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Rick Huff Current Reviews

rick huff photoRick Huff’s    “Best of the West Reviews” 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  assure that it will be reviewed.  Also predominantly religious material is not accepted for review in the  column. 

 

 

 

12-1-2016

Victoria Ward  “Prune Pie (& Other Moving Stories)”

ISBN 978-1-943829-00-2

Originating from a blog, this book contains stories of the Wards, on and off the music trail.

You’ll meet Barry as husband, father, performer and “victim” of Victoria, wife, mom and feisty prankster along with kids B.J., Hunter and Sierra at all ages and stages.  Happily for the reader, Victoria writes skillfully as she draws sharp and entertaining pictures with clever timing and apt turns of phrase.   Each story is brief enough so the book can easily be a bedside reader (or some other side…it is prune pie, after all).  She was encouraged by her blog audience (“blogience?”) to assemble her stories on paper between covers with a spine, so she did…in a fun little volume.  Plenty of laughs, and soulful moments, fill the plate.  You won’t go away hungry.  Fifty-five tales on two hundred thirty-seven pages.

Softcover Book:  $15 through www.rhyolitepress.com

Two Bit Pete  “Cowboy Classics”

Here’s a debut album that really showcases its subject and performer to the fullest!

Tremendously artful style and intelligence (kudos to Aarom Meador) went into the production of this one.  Predominantly David Hansford (a.k.a. “Two Bit Pete”) is a reciter, although a nice poem of his own is included here (“Rusty The Cowdog”).  With clever effects and music applied in just the right moments and degree, our scene is set.  Two Bit Pete dramatically regales the boys with tales around the crackling cook fire.  And storytelling is how it plays, with three poems of S. Omar Barker, two from Larry McWhorter (“The Confrontation” and “Fear”),  two by Carlos Ashley (“The Widder” and “Aunt Cordie”) and others from Sunny Hancock , Bruce Kiskaddon and Gail  T. Burton.

When someone speaks, there is a gentle shift in voice and perspective in the stereo mix.  That’s caring about what you’re doing!  Highly recommended.  Thirteen tracks + introduction.

CD:  (info not furnished, but google artist and title)

The Western Flyers  “Wild Blue Yonder”

The Western Flyers are accurately named!  They surely do!

With the same tightness (and swiftness) he employed with The Quebe Sisters, vocalist and archtop guitar wonder Joey McKenzie guns the accelerator here, and trio mates Katie Glassman (fiddle & vocals) and Gavin Kelso (bass & harmonies) fly along.  Even slow-tempo isn’t all-that slow.  There are opportunities throughout for each member of this technically accomplished trio to be spotlighted.  This release will truly keep you up as they tear through tracks like “You’re From Texas,” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter,” “Old Fashioned Love” and “I’ll See You In My Dreams.’  Rippin’ fast instrumentals include “Carroll County Blues,” “Sweet Georgia Brown,” Texas Fiddle Medley” and “The Wild Dog” (okay, they slow down suddenly in the middle…musta misplaced their keys)!  Danceable by the heartiest and youngest among us!  Recommended.  Thirteen tracks total.

CD:  (available through www.thewesternflyers.com)

The Cowboy Way  (self-titled)

So here’s a premier album from a couple of very proven entities!  I believe that could be called “stacking the deck,” but if so, it’s definitely in your favor!

With a truckload of Song Of The Year, Male Performer Of The Year and other awards between them from a mix of organizations, solo artists Jim Jones and Doug Figgs teamed up with the extraordinary producer/multi-instrumentalist and singer Mariam Funke (once and for all it’s pronounced Mah’-reeum Fun’-keh!) to perform as The Cowboy Way.  People are loving the result.  The group’s debut recording has the inspired crackle of pure enthusiasm for the doing and the telling.  It’s particularly apparent on tracks like “Don’t Look Back,” “The Wheel Fell Off The Wagon” or “Take Me Back To Texas When I Die.”  Superior stuff throughout.  Highly recommended.  Twelve tracks total.

CD:  $15 +$3 s/h through www.cowboywaymusic.com also through cdbaby & iTunes

 Sons of the San Joaquin  “One Last Ride”

The title song was chosen on purpose.  This release will draw the final curtain on the remarkable musical journey of the Sons Of The San Joaquin.

Jack, Joe & Lon Hannah have led charmed professional lives, traveling the world, singing with symphonies, and their efforts have given us classic recordings.  From the fertile brain of Jack sprang several modern standards of our repertoire.   Theirs was one of the first contemporary acts chosen for induction into the Western Music Hall of Fame.

These previously unreleased recordings are from 1996 and 2010 sessions, mastered in 2016.  Those famous harmonies are featured on “One More Ride,” “How Great Thou Art” and “The Searchers.”  A haunting solo from Jack on “Don’t Ride Away” and the classic Hannah big west song construction of “Down Where The Saguaro Grow” are among the the collection’s high points.

Now Joe is turning 85, Jack is 83 and Lon turned 60!!  The Sons have served Western well, and will stand as one of the greatest of its trios.  Happy Trails, Gentlemen.  Recommended.  Twelve tracks.

CD:  (avail able through www.WesternJubilee.com)

Ryan Fritz  “Keeper of the West”

Ryan Fritz arrives with his newest album.  It’s 100% Western, recorded and produced by Eli Barsi and John Cunningham.  Both of them provide musical support on the songs as well.  Top session talent has also been employed, which is all to the good, on this contemporary collection.

Picks include the title track, the sad portrait “Frank Chief Calf,” “Jingle Up,” “Teach Me Something Old,” “Give A Boy A Rope” and “War Horse.”  Ryan Fritz is the real deal.  He performs with honest cowboy conviction, which leads me to ask a question.  Am I hearing touches of digital pitch correction here?  I mean the kind that’s absolutely necessary to use on questionable Country people, but changes the blood in the voice to an electronic parody of itself?  Nothing in Fritz’s earlier releases suggests that was needed.  Unless he was having a bad day, knock it off!!  Recommended.  Fourteen tracks.

CD:  (visit www.ryanfritz.net and available through iTunes also for download)

Miss Devon & The Outlaw and Friends  “City of Dreams”

(Miss) Devon (Osbourne) Dawson got together with brother Jerry (Osbourne) to write the City Song for Port Townsend, Washington.  But, not unlike another song written simply to provide a radio theme for Roy & Dale, this song sings (and in this case swings) just fine on its own!

Shoring up the release of “City Of Dreams” on this album are previously released tracks from from Miss Devon and her current partner The Outlaw, her one-shot (so far) with Rich O’Brien and Kristyn Harris as Badger & The Belles and the fondly remembered Texas Trailhands.  Devon solos on “Ballad of Mr. Elmer” and “Play ‘Faded Love’ I Gotta Go Home.”  It’s all danceable as it swings, waltzes and two-steps its way along.  You just might dance, too!  Recommended.  Nineteen tracks total.

CD:  (info not furnished but likely through Miss Devon & The Outlaw’s site)

Michael Coy  “Southwest Sojourn”

He comes from a ranching background, but he’s also lived the city-bound cowboy life.  Michael Coy is a vocalist pretty much cut from the Norman Blake or even Bob Dylan cloth.  His songs are personal, some extraordinarily so (“Home Sung Hero” or “Keeper Of The Fire,” a CD pick).  I will confess to being partial to the vocal blend achieved with wife Donna on the four tracks she graces (particularly “Leave Me Alone In The Saddle”).  “Rocky Mountain Cowboy” is a nice tribute song for the Powell, Wyoming radio entertainer who inspired Coy the boy on early morning broadcasts.  A good message is delivered in “I Love America Too” (a flag-bedecked Humvee doth not the patriot make…if you love your country you love those who share it with you).  Good session players enhance the project as well.  Fourteen tracks total.

CD:  $15 ppd by emailing MFOLKMUSIC@gmail.com

Liz Masterson (w/Michael Dowling & Friends)  “Linger Awhile”

The concept here was to provide a gentle, straightforward acoustic mounting, then let the jewel of Liz Masterson sparkle.  That works on many levels!

The simple combo sound Mike Dowling & Friends provide (guitars, mandolin, accordion and bass) lets the Masterson stylistic virtuosity come through in jazzy swingers like the title track, “Don’t Be Blue” and “Texas Echo” or a gentle lope like “Along The Navajo Trail.”  Included are a pair of fine Cindy Walker songs (if it isn’t redundant to say “fine” and “Cindy Walker songs” together) “Salt River Valley” and the bouncy, bluesy “Ridin’ On Down.”  Also the combo gets to flex on the instrumental “Mountain Glide.” And a very interesting song to be brought out now…Woody Guthrie & Martin Hoffman’s “Deportee”… is here, which unfortunately may represent a forthcoming West.  Recommended.  Fourteen tracks total.

CD:  (inquire through liz@lizmasterson.com)

Judy James  “Christmas In My Hometown”

Singer and award-winning radio host Judy James has thankfully brought forth one of those holiday albums with fresh “holi” in it!

Michael Martin Murphey & Rob Quist’s “Christmas Cowboy Style,” David John’s  title track “Christmas In My Hometown,” “The Littlest Angel” from Mack David & Simon Rad, “One More Christmas Day” by David Sawyer and Mason Young and Rita MacNeil’s “This Season Will Never Grow Old” are nice additions to the more expected annual fare.  Adding “America The Beautiful” in this context was an uplifting choice, and her album notes provide an interesting data bit.  Did you realize that “Do You Hear What I Hear” was written by Noel Regney (with Gloria Shayne Baker) as a plea for peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962?  ‘Learned something new!  Thirteen tracks total.

CD:  (info available by emailing judy@judyjames.com)

John Erfurth  “The Adventures of the Buckaroo Dogs”

ISBN  978-1-68409-241-3

Rancher and Western radio host John Erfurth wondered what his real life ranch dogs were thinking and “saying” as they meandered through their days.  This book, conceived with his late friend Jay Pierce, is the result.

It’s not a lesson in animal husbandry, unless you buy a coyote grabbing a chicken so she’ll lay eggs for him!  But he is named “Trickster,” I’ll admit.  In fact the chapters, called “episodes” here, are a bit like the Indian Coyote Trickster parables, with dialog between species.  It’s a nice idea that could have been expanded upon even more.  Sadly there’s a technical problem.  I don’t know if Page Publishing doesn’t believe in proofreading, but obviously none was done.  Typos and omissions occur in nearly every paragraph.  One sentence  begins three times, slightly altered!  The flow is hindered dramatically.  In my humble opinion, Page Publishing, what you’ve done to your author/client is criminal.  One hundred twelve pages.

Softcover Book:  $14.95 on BarnesandNoble.com & amazon

Geoff (Poppa Mac) Mackay  “Stories From My Side of the Campfire”

Red Dashboard Publishing   ISBN  978-1519178893

As one old saying goes, everything in the bible is true…and some of it actually happened!  If we’re to take this book’s biographical notes verbatim, Poppa Mac occasionally looks at his poetic subject matter that way!  What he has to say about cowboying does (and should) ring true enough, though.  He’s bull-fought as a rodeo clown saving lives, and spent countless hours ahorse in cowboy pursuits.  His book is profusely illustrated with photos from Laine Smith Photography and others.  You’ll find many of the familiar themes of Cowboy Poetry to be present, but Poppa Mac’s takes on them will illicit chuckles, smiles, snorts of recognition and a few stout pinches on your irony nerve, if you’ve got one!  Forty-eight poems on one hundred-two pages.

Softcover Book:  (info through www.reddashboard.com)

Gareth  “Sky Before a Storm”

Only eight tracks appear on this superb young Indian flute player’s CD, but somehow I doubt you’ll feel cheated!

Gareth (Laffely) and twelve fine Tennessee session musicians have produced a little gem.  The album features a perfect blend of the traditional Indian flute with (variously) piano, guitar, cello and percussion.  The moods are varied too, from the rousing “Spirit Horse” and the haunting “Steal The Moon” to the impressive title track, which features Gareth in an effective vocal performance (he should do more)!  Not to be overlooked is the artist’s showpiece called “Flutitude!”  For the WMA’s Awards Show at the KiMo Theater in Albuquerque, Gareth provided a poignant and well-received instrumental rendering of The National Anthem.  Nice touch, and this album will provide a nice spice-up for your collection.  Highly recommended.

CD:  (available through www.GarethMusic.com)

Ed Wahl  “Keeping The West Alive”

This CD was issued a bit further back than we usually reach, but it serves to introduce a new WMA member to many of you!

Ed Wahl is not what you’d call a crooner, but the notes are hit accurately in what I feel is a perfect blend of rustic and session-perfect.  On fellow Canadian Ian Tyson’s “MC Horses” he is solid in his presentation.  The title track is a work from the late Canadian poet and festival organizer Mike Puhallo, set to music by Bud Webb.  Other CD picks include “Old Cowpoke,” “My Cowgirl,” “Cariboo Trail” and “Listen Close.”  I’ve chosen these partly because I hadn’t heard other versions of them.  I confess that I too often compare cover performances to originals I know.  If you lean toward “real” cowboy singing done “real” well, try Mr. Wahl.  Fourteen tracks.

CD:  (info through wahlcountry@gmail.com)

Dennis Jay  “Western & Country”

It’s just what the title says…Western and Country…but a good deal of that Country is still Western-friendly to boot.

The very presence of lauded producer and multi-instrumentalist Lloyd Maines immediately signals a project that’s worth an ear!   Jay’s solid baritone, with that edge of trail-wary experience in it as if he might have seen too much, is an effect that supports the words in songs like “Right Up To The Edge” or “The Lights Of Deadwood.”  But Jay swings too, on “A Picture In My Wallet,” “My Baby’s Arms” and the semi-instrumental “Texas Skies Shining In A Cowgirl’s Eyes”  Other songs like “The Gamble” and “A Cowboy’s Tune” use the Cowboy framework to get some other jobs done.  An interesting take on “Streets Of Laredo” closes it.  Recommended.  Thirteen tracks.

CD:  (info not furnished but likely Google artist & title)

Del Shields  “Wanted”

Singer/songwriter and TV host Del Shields arrives with a new CD, and it has the customary high production values to host his strong vocals!

There are ten Shields originals in the collection, with picks being the dour “Chasin’ Strays,” “Walking In The Shadows,” “A Wanted Man” and the derivative song “Ghost of El Paso,” in which Shields takes on the part of the first cowboy shot in Marty’s classic song!  I’m also partial to “Livin’ The Dream,” an album bonus track (whatever that often used term means) that was written for his son’s wedding.  Covers include Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” and a duet with Stephanie Layne on Tyson’s “Somewhere In The Rubies.”  Layne also harmonizes on David Wilkie’s “Wind In The Wire” and Shields’ “Sweet Sierra,” “El Cerrito,” “The Faded Flyer” and “A Wanted Man” to their benefit.  Nice one, and it’s recommended.  Twelve tracks.

CD:  $15 + $4.95 s/h from www.delshieldsmusic.com also through iTunes & cdbaby

Cohorts & Collaborators (Songs Written With Waddie)

(various artists)

Scott O’Malley’s Western Jubilee Recording simply doesn’t misfire.  The company not only consistently issues top quality releases, but their albums could usually be categorized as providing “important” material for the genre.  Consider this one of those.

The collection’s subtitle “Songs Written With Waddie” is gently inaccurate.  “…With Waddie’s Words” comes closer, as most of the artists here took his finished works and wonderfully set them to music.  The rhymemeister himself makes the distinction in his notes, stating that Juni Fisher’s songs with him(“It’s Who They Are” and “Still There”) are “the most collaborated of the album!”  No matter.  You’ll just be glad they got done.  Other featured performers (co-writers) include Sons & Brothers, Jon Chandler, Pipp Gillette (also The Gillette Brothers), Brenn Hill, Trinity Seely, Dave Stamey and Dean Walden.  Several songs here are award winners, and most will become standards in the Western repertoire.  Highly recommended.  Twelve tracks.

CD:  (available through www.WesternJubilee.com)

Broken Chair Band  “Second Chances”

Here are the latest examples of what this Southern Arizona band terms “Americowboyfolk grass!”  Take that, Spellcheck!

Located in the land of the chickenscratch dance, the Broken Chair is the family ranch of the Family Carter:  Todd, the dad (acoustic bass & lead vocals), Melinda, the mom (acoustic guitar with vocals & mandolin), daughter Danielle “Dani Sue” (fiddle and vocals) and drums & percussion guy Lonnie Ward (does he get his own key?)!!  Fleshing things out are six session musicians all named “Wilson.”  What are the odds?!!  It’s engineer and multi-instrumentalist Andrew Wilson and his family providing support.  The Western Writers Spur Award sticker on the CD cover refers to the presence of “Charlie & Evangeline,” one of two co-writes Todd Carter did with New Mexico’s Doug Figgs.  The other here is “This World’s Not Our Own.”  Fourteen tracks total.

CD:  $14.97 through cdbaby ($9.99 download)

Barry Ward  “Welcome Home”

Former WMA Male Performer Of The Year Barry Ward’s newest release is one that was obviously assigned a different mission than usual. There’s less specific Western content here, but Bear’s fans won’t mind a bit.

The title track is a tough song about the cold shoulder accorded the Viet Nam-era vets when they returned from their war. And much of the CD is patriotic or religious in nature. Two of the cover songs offered are “North To Alaska” and John Denver’s “Back Home Again,” both considered to be Western (or close). One of the album picks is a Pony Express song from Dennis Goodwin & Jean Prescott called “Orphans Preferred.” One of the Western picks from Barry’s originals is “Lilacs In The Wind,” but the power of some of his others is unarguable. Recommended. Fourteen tracks total.

CD: (available through www.BarryWardMusic.com)