various artists,
Elko! A Cowboy's Gathering
(Dualtone, 2005)

We have in this two-disc set a representative sampling of the sort of communal celebration of the life of the professional cow manager, which takes place once a year in Elko, Nevada. This particular session, featured on Elko! A Cowboy's Gathering, took place in January 2004, and the offerings range from the cleverly spun yarn to the elegaic poem, from the quiet instrumental to the rambunctuous hoedown. All are rendered with respectable audio clarity, in spite of field recording in a variety of different venues.

Disc 1 opens with the guitar duet "Ay Ay Ay," in which the acoustic work of Rich and Valerie O'Brien does a good job of setting the tone for what follows. The next 21 cuts explore a variety of issues, from the domestic perils of Rodney Nelson's "Elevator Scale" (in which our protagonist is caught using the grain elevator scale to quantify the weight of his spouse) to the wide-ranging tune "Powder River, Let 'Er Buck," delivered with gusto by Skip Gorman & the Waddie Pals. In "International Glenn," Glenn Ohrlin shares tall tales with the belly music and Tuva throat-singing cowpoke compadres of the high Mongolian Steppes, and Andy Wilkinson's lament of a cowboy gone to soon in "Angels Can Do No More" is rendered with quiet strength on voice and guitar.

Paul Zarzyski offers the memorably monikered poetic musing "Bizarzyski-Mad Bard & Carpenter Savant of Manchester, Montana-Feeds the Finicky Birds" (whose title really does say it all), and the Native American chant "Dream of Spotted Buffalo/Night Song of the Crow" rings forth from Henry Real Bird. The first disc closer is a respectable cover of "Spanish is the Loving Tongue," given strong voice by Michael Martin Murphey & the American Bucaroo Orchestra.

On disc 2, Ian Tyson (yes, that Ian Tyson) offers the saga of "Jerry Ambler" with Gordon Maxwell and Gordon Matthews, and Ruthie Dornfeld's spirited fiddle draws the listener through the rousing "Cattle in the Cane." The best poem of the set, "Equus Caballus" featuring the line "Running on middle fingernail..." is unfolded by Joel Nelson, and a little further down the trail, Sourdough Slim rips through the yodeling saga of "Big Bad Bill." The quiet guitar and vocal "Red River Rose," delivered with authority by Red Steagall, follows, and a little further along, Georgie Sicking sorts out the pride of papas everywhere in her "Rooster Poem." Waddie Mitchell, one of the organizers of the Elko Gathering, shares an "Evening Chat" twixt cowboy and steed, and the fitting closer is the commemoration of the closing of an era captured in Don Edwards' "The Campfire has Gone Out."

There are other tales and tunes to delight in this collection, but part of the delight is in the discovery, so I leave it to those who love the lure of the range to lay hands upon this fine offering, which will doubtless be fuel for a campfire that will never go out.

by Gilbert Head
14 October 2006

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