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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. 




– Allan & Jill Kirkham

              “Sunrise On The Prairie”

The operative words here might be “congenial” and “informal.”  The newest release from The Kirkhams has a comfortable feel to much of the sound.  However they did seem to feel they had something a bit extra with the title song, for which they’ve used additional acoustic guns!  And I can’t disagree with that choice!  Aiding in its presentation (beyond Allan’s lead & harmony vocals, guitar and mandolin and Jill’s harmony, bass and harmonica) we have former Flying W Wrangler Joe Stephenson on fiddle, McPherson Guitar spokesman Jimmy Lee Robbins and Lee Patterson, accordion.  On other tracks Juan Eduardo DeHoyos handles lead guitar and Katie Lautenschlager fiddles.

Other original Kirkham picks are a simple veteran tribute to “Uncle Bob,” and a sweet pone for wife Jill “Love Burst.”  I’ve known the feeling.  Traditional Western picks are their covers of “Whoopie Ti Yi YO,”  a loping swing take of “Home On The Range,” “Buffalo Gals” and the not often covered “All The Pretty Little Horses.”  The album is billed as “Traditional Western”  But we’d know that from the presence of a song called “Mucking Out The Stalls!”  Twelve tracks.  Recommended.

CD:  $15 in person or $20 ppd from Jill Kirkham, 25353 S. Lightning Creek Rd., Custer, SD 57730-7111

Aspen Black

           “Lovin’ The West”

On Aspen Black’s newest release, musical enhancements are provided by Kerry Grombacher (mandolin, harmonies and a lead vocal duet on “Sing Me A Campfire Song”) and by album co-producer Randolph Walker (lead and rhythm guitar, harmonica, acoustic bass and harmony vocals).  The effect makes this one Ms. Black’s best produced CD to date.

For listeners who recall the sound of certain mid-1960s groups, Aspen Black’s high, crisp vocals might prove reminiscent of hits from The Silkie (i.e., “You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away”) or perhaps We Five who scored with “You Were On My Mind.”  It’s a favorable comparison I’m trying to make, anyway!

Picks on this release include the Cowboy reality check “It Must Be The Rain,” the westward migration song “Go West,” “the title track “Lovin’ The West” and “El Dorado” (although some of its lyrics may be a little hard to make out).  Fans of Ms. Black should find sufficient fodder here on which to graze.   Ten tracks.

CD:  (available through

Carol Markstrom

                  “Desert Rose”

Occasionally in Carol Markstrom’s earlier recordings, I seemed to detect a touch of “careful caution” appearing in her singing.  With this one, Markstrom has found her voice, as it were…confident enough to throw a little carefree abandon and even some acting into the delivery, and it works with sassy satisfaction!

Through Rex Allen, Jr., for her newest album Markstrom connected with producer Bil VornDick.  He receives co-writing credit on a number of the tracks and his general effect on things has obviously been positive.  Eleven musicians (including three from the illustrious Time Jumpers) provide superb support, with vocal harmonies being done by Micki Fuhrman and Rex, Jr.  He also joins Markstrom in a duet for the albums closer “Cowboy Christmas.”

Before his death, Mentor Williams sent a folio of his unreleased songs to his buddy Bil VornDick, who has granted her access to two of them for the occasion.  Both are album picks.  “Bandida” (which Markstrom absolutely nails vocally, co-written with Michael Hearne) and “Love Is An Angel.”  Other picks include the swinger “Too Bad This Town Ain’t In Texas,” “Rangeland Lament,” and, with Markstrom embracing the international cowboy, “Dust Bowl Dance” from the United Kingdom’s alternative rock group Mumford & Sons.  Recommended.  Thirteen tracks.

CD:  (available through

Chris Brashear, Peter McLaughlin & Todd Phillips

                                      (The Colton House Trio)

           “The Colton House Sessions [Songs For The Southwest]”

Brashear and McLaughlin have performed together to accolades for a couple of decades now, and with the addition of Todd Phillips, they’ve dubbed themselves “The Colton House Trio,” at least for now!  It’s all the result of a songwriting residency at Flagstaff’s famous Colton House granted to the men by the Museum of Northern Arizona.  These songs were debuted in a program at the Pickin’ In The Pines Bluegrass & Acoustic Music Festival.  You’ll find saga songs, portraits in music and even some material done in tribute to an early friend of the fledgling WMA, the late Katie Lee.

The album’s theme is stated clearly on the jacket:  “An acoustic music celebration inspired by the history and wonder of the Southwest and the Colorado Plateau.”  Every song completes its mission, but we’ll name as picks “Slow River Running,” “Terlingua To Tombstone,” “Too Thick To Drink Too Thin To Plow,” “Big High Mountain” and “Hassayampa Blues.”  Recommended.  Twelve tracks.

CD:  $19 + s/h through for all credit card purchases or $15 + $2.75 s/h through

Diamond W Wranglers

“A Kansas Souvenir [The Rolling Kansas Plains]”

“The Diamond Dubs” once again prove themselves to be one of the classiest of the class acts with their new Kansas-themed release.  But they remain fresh enough to allow for some spontaneity  Mastered into their take of “Ghost Riders…” is the Kansas thunderstorm that arrived to interrupt their recording session!

Original picks include band member Stu Stuart’s majestic title song “The Rolling Kansas Plains,” Jim Farrell’s “Trail Dust” and his loping “Full Gallop.”  Among the covers chosen picks include Curly Musgraves’ “Cowboy True,” Kim Tribble & Bobby Whiteside’s “Don’t Ever Sell Your Saddle,” Lerner & Loewe’s “They Call The Wind Maria” and Charlie Daniels’ “Billy The Kid” featuring the wildly outlaw electric guitar solo of Stu Stuart’s that brings even hardened Western audiences to their feet!  Five of the songs are classics named a while back by WWA voters as being among the Top 10 Greatest Western songs.

DDW albums are always nicely annotated and informative.  Did you know Billy The Kid’s mama was the only female signer of the original Wichita incorporation petition??

Recommended!  Fifteen tracks.

CD:  (available through

“Dom Flemons Presents

                    Black Cowboys”

Here is one of the most important CD collections to be issued in years.  It is the first of its kind and, hopefully, not the last.  A compendium of music and words from and about the legendary black cowboys of our American Southwest and South.

Enter “The American Songster” Dom Flemons, an award-winning musician/historian and founder of the modern preservationist trio the Carolina Chocolate Drops.  Few people are in a better position (or have greater personal motivation) to have taken on this research and performance project.  Heretofore under-publicized stories of the origins of songs and interweavings of  many cowboy cultures together.  So momentous is this release that we have decided to continue exploring it in this Western Way issue as the subject for the Western World Tour column.  In this collection you’ll experience Flemons’ masterful rendering of Wally McRae’s glorious work “Ol’ Proc,” an amazing performance on “Charmin’ Betsy,” recreating the sound of Henry ‘Ragtime Texas’ Thomas on vocal, banjo and quills (panpipes).  And the stories and discoveries go on.  The forty-page booklet included is “worth the price of admission,” as the saying goes.  Highly recommended.  Eighteen tracks.

CD:  (available through Smithsonian Folklore Recordings Mail Order, Washington, DC 20560-0520 or call 1-888-FOLKWAYS (orders only)

Doris Daley & Eli Barsi

                 “Once Upon The West”

Here’s a CD of Daley’s words (in Daley’s words!) and Daley’s words in Barsi’s music!!  And there are some of singer Barsi’s own creations as well.

Daley’s title track poem “Once Upon The West” addresses points that inspire poems and songs spawning the words and melodies we treasure, providing the theme of the collection.  Along the way Daley compares and skewers resorts over encampments, Kardashian-types over farmwives, real coffee’s horsepower over “Rancho Tarbucks” and Dad’s rhythmic Waltz over any of ‘Pop’s’ rhythms.  She offers appropriate wishes for you (“In Your Next Life”), Granddad’s ‘wily” coyote plan for his next life (“Say ‘Hi’ To Grandpa”) and Daley grabs you by the heart in “April 1881.”

Barsi handles Daley’s words adroitly in the songs “Riding Home To You,” “Share The Ride With Me,” “Canadian Air,” “God Only Knows” and “Where Cowboys Ride” (also delivered as a poem as are “Once Upon The West” and “Goodnight To The Trail”).

It’s a pleasant and effective paring, this Daley/Barsi thing, and it’s further enhanced with fine instrumental support from Craig Young, Bruce Hoffman, John Cunningham and Al “Doc” Mehl.  Recommended.  Twenty-One tracks!

CD:  (contact or

Hot Texas Swing Band

                “Off The Beaten Trail”

In listening to the newest release from this quickly rising Western Swing assemblage, I was immediately struck by the different tonalities achieved in the brass.  At times it seems to sport a bit of the 60s Texas rock sound (“Off The Beaten Path”).  At other times it’s straight ahead Jazz (“How Do I Not,” “Bull Whip”), and at still other points the horns take up what might have been a twin fiddle line for another group (“Headed Back To The Barn”)!  There’s variety for ya!

By and large, for the more rural subjects Alex Dormant’s Ernest Tubb-style voice serves.  The ladies Selena Rosanbalm and Liz Morphis seem to be tapped for the earnest club-style Jazzy tracks (“Cry Me A River,” “This Time”).  They all join forces on the swinging “Snow In Amarillo,” the Cajun-feeling “Baton Rouge Waltz” and they certainly give George Jones’ classic “White Lightnin’” an extra kick!

Other stellar players include Cat Clemons (guitar), Ileana Nina (fiddle), Stephen Bidwell (drums), Joey Colarusso (sax), Dan Walton (piano), Dave Biller (steel guitar) and Jimmy Shortell (trumpet & accordion).  Highly recommended.  Thirteen tracks.

CD:  (available through

Jim Jones

           “Headin’ Home”

This time around, the award-winning Mr. Jones offers Western tracks and not-so Western tracks in a mix of the purely pleasant with frequent dashes of the thoughtful.  Picks include one that could be autobiographical for any traveling musician “Living The Dream,” the novelty spin on “Bringing In The Sheaves” Jones calls “More Meat For Me,” a Jones/Kristyn Harris co-write (and sing) “Take Me Back To Texas,” the title track “Headin’ Home,” a Jones/Bruce Huntington co-write called “Man Of The Mountains,” a Jones/Les Buffham offering “Queen Of Alcova” and the one about my own personal house of worship “The Church Of The Wretched Excess!”

Some covers done this time are worthy of mention.  Kerry Grombacher’s “The Outlaw Trail,” Paul Simons’ thematically connected “Homeward Bound” and Ian Tyson’s “Four Strong Winds” performed here with daughter Adrianne Morrow Jones are all candidates for a shout-out!    Recommended.  Fourteen tracks.

CD:  (available through

 Lauralee Northcott

“On The Loose [and Headed Your Way]”

Having been a guide in the Washington State wilderness, Lauralee Northcott, former lead vocalist for the Horse Crazy Cowgirl Band, writes of what she knows in her first solo outing in a spell.

With the strong focus having been on harmony and arrangements, now we get to appreciate Northcott’s interpretive skills…especially true since there are breaks in the action for poetry, too (“Dutch Oven Cooking,” “Mountain Staircase” and “Little Kids & Big Horses”).  A sweet cover of Richard Elloyan’s “The Weaver” is a CD pick along with Northcott’s “Cowgirl Way,” “Old Man’s Heart,” “Molly Terry” (a fictional account of real cowgirl history).  For this initial solo effort, Northcott has engaged the production and performing skills of none other than Dave and Carolyn Martin, plus Don Carr (lead guitar), Mike Sweeney (steel & dobro) and Billy Contreras (fiddle and mandolin), so naturally there’s a good deal of swing in the mix (“Old Shoe,” “I Don’t Know Where We’re Goin’ But We’re Makin’ Record Time,” “On The Loose And Headed Your Way” and others.  Nice one!  Fourteen tracks.

CD:  (available through

Mike Blakely


Noted singer/songwriter and Western novelist Mike Blakely’s latest release isn’t specifically “Cowboy,” but much of the material is perfectly Cowboy in attitude and locale.  Cases in point:  “A Town Called Paradise” (population, two…where the air is fresh and the stars are bright), “My Same Old New Mexican Dream” (of amazing vistas, topography and the trout are biting…what more could you want!) or “Moonlight Colorado (an escape to the high country “listening to a Marty Robbins tune”).  Being an accomplished novelist, Blakely can also deliver nice turns of phrase.  In one of his non-Western tracks he says “I am Nobody, Nobody’s perfect, and so I’m perfect for you!” And that one’s done in one of Ian Tyson’s favorite rhythms…Reggae!

The album is very nicely produced and played, as are all of Mike Blakely’s albums.  In fact, might I recommend looking online at Blakely’s site or trying the resell sources to locate older Blakely releases?  Included on them are some of the best original contemporary Western songs in the repertoire!  Ten tracks.

CD:  (available through

Mikki Daniel & Doug Figgs

                    “…thinking of you…” 

Two award-winning solo performers have teamed up for this release that should please fans of both.  Actually, in a way this one is also a release for Figgs’ group The Cowboy Way, as Jim Jones and Mariam Funke are providing vocal harmonies and additional musical support here as well!

There are many “picks” on this one and I don’t mean “guitar!”  Among the Figgs-penned originals would have to be “In It For The Ride,” “Alchesay” and co-writes with Daniels, Rusty Battenfield and Todd Carter (“Ever Since The Rain,” “Viejo Amigo” and “The Color Of My Love” respectively).  Covers on the album are Marty Robbins’ “El Paso,” (on which Figgs and Daniels trade off stanzas), Stuart Hamblen’s theme song  “Texas Plains” (watch for the little novelty ending rewrite) and the Cindy Walker/Eddy Arnold Country classic “You Don’t Know Me.”  More so than the title track, I hope this last one won’t strike people as leaning toward the inappropriate for this particular duo.  Although very well rendered, it hit me with kind of the same vibe as when the Sinatras (father and daughter) went “and spoiled it all by saying something stupid like I love you” back in the ’70s.   Yes, I know…the music is the thing, but still….

Fourteen tracks, and it’s recommended of course.

CD:  (available through,, cdbaby & iTunes)

Notable Exceptions


The “duo par excellence” has excelled again!

For their second release, Judy Coder and Jennifer Epps have followed the old saying “you should write about what you know!”  Add to that “sing” in the Notable’s case.  The well-traveled touring team certainly knows the road.  Their hilarious “Mobil(e) Travel Guide” says it all and, of course, Joyce Woodson’s song “Souvenir” provides the collection’s title and slides into the passenger seat comfortably.

Cover picks on the release include Dave Stamey’s “Somewhere West Of Laramie,” Juni Fisher’s marvel “The Same River” (on which Coder plays her great great grandfather’s Civil War-era fife), Sherry Diamnod’s “Cowgirl Serenade” and Notable Exceptions’ galloping harmony showpiece Rossini’s “William Tell Overture,” for which they took home a WMA Harmony Award one year, if memory serves.  In addition to Coder and Epps’ own multi-instrumental contributions, additional able support comes from Patti Nance (dobro), Erinn Renyer (cello) and Aaron Till (fiddle).

Despite having been recorded across the course of a single week while on tour in Kansas, nothing comes off rushed here…except the speed of the “William Tell,” of course!!  Highly recommended.  Thirteen tracks.

CD:  (available by contacting Judy Coder & Jennifer Epps 785-554-9557 and through

Richard Elloyan & Steve Wade

                      “Up For Adoption”

Literal nuts-and-bolts terrain description songs can be an embarrassingly slippery slope that many artists have plunged down.  Richard Elloyan is one of the few who can get away with it and, for the life of me, I’m not exactly sure how!!  Just such a song (“Sunrise Side Of The Sierras”) leads off Richard Elloyan & Steve Wade’s newest offering.  It’s dedicated to the late Steve Swinford, Elloyan’s fast friend, collaborator and producer of most of his past releases.

The title track “Up For Adoption” continues Elloyan’s long-time focus on the plight of and empathy for Nevada’s mustangs. Other picks this time include “Ranch Rendezvous,” the eerie song “Lady Of The Gallows,” “Blood & Gunsmoke,” the poetically artful “Orphan Drover” and “Rubies In The Moon” ( a Nevada mountain scene Elloyan would know well).  And a couple of non-Western tracks should be mentioned as well (“The Man Who Never Will” and “I Hope She’s Lonely Tonight”).

Richard Elloyan’s releases always have some worthy messages and this one is no exception.   Recommended.  Eleven tracks.

CD: (available through and also most online services incl.

Cdbaby,Amazon and iTunes)

Ron Christopher

              “Outside The Fence”

The hallmark of Ron Christopher releases is a thickness of production values.  It’s always a Big West effect and the effect certainly rules here.  Woven into and around the album’s fourteen tracks are sixteen musicians!!  Christopher could certainly never be cited as a believer in the adage “less is more.”  For him, more is more…and then let’s add some more!

Picks this time out are the saga songs “Sonora,” “Iron Mistress,” “Line In The Sand,” a veteran commentary song “Lone Wolf” and Christopher’s tribute to the late Gene Culkin called “Old Friend.”  Occasionally Christopher’s plot lines of the saga songs are intricate and weaving as some movie scripts I’ve encountered.  I have to wonder if it may require a level of attention that is seriously lacking in our forthcoming generation.  Immediate gratification is not what such a story is about.

Ron Christopher harkens back artistically to the end of the classic Western era when Ken Darby, William Lava and arrangers of their kind put together themes for TV such as Maverick, Cheyenne, The Rifleman and Bonanza.  I’m glad somebody’s doin’ it, but it sure must take a bankroll!!  Fourteen tracks.

CD:  $12.97 ppd from Ron Christopher, PO Box 411, Hermosa Beach, CA 90254 and online through

Tom Hawk

         “Earning My Spurs”

By his own admission in his liner notes, Tom Hawk is a developing performer.  Seemingly he is one who chooses to chronicle that development in album releases.  This one is Step Two.

Hawk’s debut release was all yodel songs as that was his mode of study coming in.  Producer Greg Latta, given co-credit on Step Two’s cover, provided guitar backing on the first album as Hawk didn’t yet play.  Now he does some, and Latta again provides additional instrumental support for the effort.  The album is predominantly Western standards…”Cool Water,” “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “Riding Down The Canyon,” and others.  The principal exceptions are “She Taught Me To Yodel,” “Waltz Across Texas,” “Those Old Tex Morton Blues” and a Ben Peters song “Except For You.”

Matching voice and material is its own art. It’s what entire A & R (Artist & Repertoire) Departments do at major labels.  We suggest (hopefully helpfully) that before Step Three happens, Hawk get the professional evaluation of an A & R consultant and a vocal coach to assist with phrasing and air support.  The purpose wouldn’t be to turn Hawk into something he isn’t, rather to properly display what he is.  Investing in it can certainly pay off in achieving the ultimate effect for an artist.

CD:  (available through



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

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

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 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

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 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

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

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

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 & 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

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

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

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 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

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