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Music Reviews

Recordings: Columbia

Harmony Ranch

Columbia CK 48589

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This album came out at the same time as the their Saturday morning TV show. We saw it only once and must it admit it wasn't quite Pee Wee's Playhouse. Still, how many times to modern kids get exposed do polkas, yodels and pinto beans?

There are a couple of irritating songs, but on the whole, Harmony Ranch is fine fare. Highlights include I Always Do, a beautiful ballad about a traveling father, and Come and Get It, a clever take off on Gilbert and Sullivan, with a Western Swing twist. This version improves on the Sons of the Pioneers version as Too Slim's character Sidemeat is the star.

Track Listing
1. Harmony Ranch
2. How Does He Yodel?
3. Great Grand Dad
4. The Big Corral
5. Pecos Bill
6. I Always Do
7. One Little Coyote
8. Come and Get It
9. The Cowboy's ABCs
10. Face: The Music
11. (Cody of the) Pony Express
12. Prairie Lullabye

Merry Christmas From Harmony Ranch
Columbia CK 52778

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You'd think that Riders in the Sky and Christmas would be a natural match but Merry Christmas From Harmony Ranch falls flat. The arrangements are lackluster and the song selection is uninspired. It's not horrible by any means, but it could have been much better.

Track Listing
1. Here Comes Santa Claus
2. Silver Bells
3. Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer
4. White Christmas
5. Navidad y Año Nuevo
6. Christmas Time's A-Coming
7. Deck the Bunkhouse Walls
8. Sidemeat's Christmas Goose
9. Riding Home on Christmas Eve
10. Merry Christmas from Harmony Ranch
11. Christmas Carol Medley/Greatest Gifts

Cowboys in Love
Columbia CK 64268

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Cowboys in Love is the first truly great album by Riders in the Sky. It has a loose theme of "Love" that doesn't get in the way too much and it introduces us to Joey Miskulin, the "Cow-Polka King" as a serious member of the group.

More than just adding an accordion to the mix, Miskulin as producer made several changes to the sound that at once made the trio sound more relaxed, more professional and somehow more relevant musically. The vocals, especially by whoever is soloing, are brought up closer in the recording mix, making the sound more intimate and showcasing the beautiful sounds these fellows make. The comedy is toned down yet the general atmosphere is more lighthearted. Perhaps most importantly, it marks the beginning of the practice of showcasing Woody Paul's fiddle on an instrumental track, a practice that continues now. Paul is beyond swell on the violin and the member of the group most comfortable in the jazz realm. His flights of fancy are always solid and a nice break from the vocals.

The songs are all winners. Al Dubin's Along the Santa Fe Trail gets a full orchestration that highlights the gorgeous melody rather than overwhelm it. The great Mexican classic La Malegueña turns out to be the perfect vehicle for yodelers. This version challenges the child-freak/genius Joselito's version. The most overrated group in Western music, Asleep at the Wheel, makes a brief appearance on I'm a Ding Dong Daddy and manage to keep things almost vintage.

This is quite simply a great album.

Track Listing
1. The Cowboy's in Love
2. Along the Santa Fe Trail
3. One Has My Name (The Other Has My Heart)
4. Wimmen...Who Needs 'Em
5. Sweet Señorita Teresa
6. Farr Away Stomp
7. The Yellow Rose of Texas
8. La Malagueña
9. I'm a Ding Dong Daddy
10. Early Autumn
11. You're Wearin' Out Your Welcome, Matt

Recordings: New

Always Drink Upstream From the Herd
Rounder CD0360

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At this point it would seem the Riders in the Sky would follow a formula for their recordings. But brother, what a great rut to be in! Killer flag-waver opening, a good dose of yodeling (but not too much), intricate harmonies, a gorgeous melody or two, some comedy (in this case the highlight is Rawhide) and a fine mix of covers and originals.

There's a lot to like on Always Drink Upstream From the Herd, but our favorite is the sweet version of the Tex Ritter classic, Take Me Back to My Boots and Saddle, making it even more Hollywood than Hollywood's best singing cowboy.

Track Listing
1. Riding the Winds of the West
2. The Texas Polka
3. (Take Me Back to My) Boots and Saddle
4. After You've Gone
5. The Trail Tip Song
6. Desert Serenade
7. Rawhide
8. The Whispering Wind
9. The First Cowboy Song
10. Idaho
11. The Running Gun
12. Cattle Call

Public Cowboy #1
Rounder CD 0410

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This is a perfectly nice album but nothing to write home about. The great songs have already been done by the band and they really could have uncovered some obscure chestnuts in the Gene Autry catalogue.

With just 12 songs, many of them recorded before, this feels a little like a throwaway date.

Track Listing
1. Back in the Saddle Again
2. Sioux City Sue
3. Mexicali Rose
4. You Are My Sunshine
5. Have I Told You Lately That I Love You
6. Can't Shake The Sands of Texas
7. That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine
8. Be Honest With Me
9. Blue Canadian Rockies
10. Lonely Rover
11. South of the Border
12. Ridin' Down the Canyon

Ranger Doug:
Songs of the Sage

Warner 9 46497-2

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We have to admit some disappointment with this disc. Not that Doug Green isn't a huge talent deserving a solo album. Songs of the Sage can't quite decide what kind of album it is. Is it an extension of Riders in the Sky? A more serious look at Western culture, both vintage and contemporary? An attempt to record more serious music?

Right off the bat, the opener Singing in the Saddle sounds like Riders in the Sky, only not as good. It covers no new territory and has a weird contemporary "old time" horn arrangement. What's odder is that there already is a vintage song called Singing in the Saddle that surely musicologist Doug Green must have known about. It's not horrible but it symbolizes the problems with the recording.

There is a wonderful story ballad called Jesse (not as in Jessie Polka) that tells a moving story of a ranch-hand. What a great this would have been if Green had continued along these lines! Also strong is Hurry Sunrise and Virgen Maria (Why Are You Weeping?).

This should have been a great album by Douglas Green, not a mish mash by the character Ranger Doug that just hints at his real talents.

Track Listing
1. Singing in the Saddle
2. Hurry Sunrise
3. Riding on the Rio
4. Virgen Maria (Why Are You Weeping?)
5. Amber Eyes
6. Night Riding Song
7. Welcome to the West
8. Jesse
9. River of Mystery
10. Bells
11. Idaho Moon
12. Where the Wild Winds Blow

A Great Big Western Howdy!
Rounder CD 0430

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This would be a great album if only for the rousing first track, Wa-Hoo. It's all you've come to expect form the Riders in the Sky: harmony, hi-jinx and yodeling. Other highlights include Woody Paul's version of Ray Noble's Cherokee and the Sons of the Pioneers' Cowboy Camp Meetin'. Woody Paul continually proves to be an excellent songwriter with his romantic ballad, The Arms of My Love. Highly recommended.

Track Listing
1. Wah-Hoo!
2. A Hundred and Sixty Acres
3. Cherokee
4. Autumn on the Trail
5. The Ballad of Palindrome/Palindrome
6. Cowboy Camp Meetin'
7. The Arms of My Love
8. Cimarron Moon
9. The Sidekick Jig
10. A Border Romance
11. One More Ride With Marty Stuart
12. He Walks With the Wild and the Lonley

Christmas the Cowboy Way
Rounder 11661-0445-2

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This is a much better holiday album than Columbia's Merry Christmas From Harmony Ranch but it still doesn't quite make it. The novelty numbers are all fine but oddly it's the more religious songs, like Virgen Maria (originally from Ranger Doug's solo album) and O Come, O Come Emmanuel, that really gel.

Track Listing

1. Corn, Water and Wood
2. Let It Snow/The Last Christmas Medley
3. The Christmas Yodel
4. Sidemeat's Christmas Stew
5. The Prairie Dog Christmas Ball
6. The Friendly Beasts
7. Virgin Maria (Why Are You Weeping?)
8. I'll Be Home for Christmas
9. An Old Fashioned Christmas Polka
10. The Twelve Days of Cowboy Christmas
11. Just Put a Ribbon in Your Hair
12. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

Woody's Roundup
Walt Disney Records 60676-7

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Hey, Howdy Hey! Kiddy music isn't so dire, after all. Woody's Roundup is clearly aimed at the Pampers set but it won't drive you nuts the way Barney or Raffi will. The Riders actually turn Randy Newman's bland ditty, You've Got a Friend In Me into a gentle swinger.

Devon Dawson as Jessie, the yodeling cowgirl, is great.

Track Listing
1. Woody's Roundup
2. Act Naturally
3. Jessie, the Yodelin' Cowgirl
4. The Ballad of Bullseye
5. You've Got a Friend in Me
6. Hey Howdy Hey
7. My Favorite Toys
8. How Does She Yodel?
9. The Prospector Polka
10. You've Got a Friend in Me [instrumental]
11. "One, Two, Three, " Said the Prospector
12. Home on the Range
13. SHHH! A Secret Bonus Track!

Riders in the Sky present:
A Pair of Kings

Musicwagon MW1001CD

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We still like this disc as much as we did when we reviewed it several months ago.

Track Listing
1. We're Burning Moonlight
2. Clarinet Polka
3. You Stole My Wife You Horsetheirf
4. How High the Moon
5. Texas Sand
6. Celtic Medley
7. I'm an Old Cowhand
8. Jessie Polka
9. Never Go To Church on Sunday
10. The Bunkhouse Race
11. Don't Sweetheart Me
12. Katherine's Waltz



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5 Martinis = Classic
4 Martinis = Great
3 Martinis = Good
2 Martinis = Fair
1 Martini = Poor


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