IBy Jennifer Schneider n a country music world filled with the likes of Kenny “look at my biceps” Chesneys and Faith “how much shorter can my skirt get before it ceases to exist?” Hills, it’s comforting to know real cowboy singers are still out roaming the range. Their faces aren’t splashed all over CMT, but their music speaks for itself.
Such is the case with Peter Rowan and Don Edwards’ “High Lonesome Cowboy,” the latest release in Shanachie Entertainment’s Appalachia to Abilene series. Featuring old-time music legends Tony Rice and Norman Blake, the album combines bluegrass and western stylings to conjure up visions of late-night campfires, broken-in saddles and dusty trails.
Filled with flat-pick guitar, mandolin, banjo and bass, these sparse songs sound as high and lonesome as their album title would suggest. Whether crooning about a cowboy who shoots his wife’s lover in Woody Guthrie’s “Reno Blues (Philadelphia Lawyer)” or lamenting the life of a cattle puncher in “The Old Chisholm Trail,” the album’s tunesmiths manage to make listeners nostalgic for a lifestyle they’ve likely never known.
Peter Rowan, a musician who’s been perfecting his bluegrass technique for decades, has a knack for making traditional tunes sound tender yet tough. “If you ever sang around a campfire late into the night you know where these songs came from,” he writes in the album’s liner notes. “I felt some kind of truth about our country lay in these canyons, the bone dry air, the wind and the sky.”
Don Edwards, a cowboy balladeer who’s been praised by everyone from Gene Autry to Robert Redford (who cast him in his 1998 film “The Horse Whisperer”) embraces songs like the lolling “The Night Guard” with his warm, unassuming voice. Together, their engaging vocal harmonies, raw stories and authentic cattle calls bring a sense of longing to these un-romanticized tales of the Old West.
Granted, “High Lonesome Cowboy” is not for everybody. Like a long cattle drive up North, it tends to drag on at times, and even for lovers of traditional music, it’s a bit of an acquired taste. But there are no over-produced voices or downy belly buttons here – just authentic western music and cowboy lore. And in a world where authenticity is often buried beneath makeup and drum synthesizers, that’s refreshing. Come-a ki yi yippy yi yay!