Bob Grez,
Still a Cowboy
(self-produced, 2000)

Bob Grez has given us an album of traditional and original country music with Still a Cowboy. Its thirteen songs all blend a classic country sound with classic country themes: love lost, found and longed for, punctuated with a lone tune about an outlaw band followed by one expressing discontent with the direction society has taken.

I tend to like the faster traditional country sound, so "You're the Fire in My Heart" was an immediate hit, as was "Pretendin' You're Lovin' Me." "Where'd You Put My Boots, My Darlin'?" has a similar sound, and asks that question so important to a cowboy's heart with a humorous slant.

I enjoyed "I See the Writin', Darlin'," with its consistent motif: "it was written on the page, written in the sand, written on your face, now i understand..." The repeated use of "written" both as a word and idea is poetic and effective.

"Can't Be Loving You No More," "Wish I Never Said Goodbye to You," "Won't You Let Me in Your Heart" and "Goodnight, My Love, Goodnight" are solid and satisfying traditional country songs about love in various kinds of transition. "Dreams Do Come True" combines this with an almost pop sound, which is interesting in context.

"Dance With me Tonight" has a zydeco sound and I'd love to hear it with an accordion; it was another of my favorites here. And I loved the blend of country with just a touch of Spanish sound in the first song "Am I the Wrong One Loving You," although in several places the lyrics seemed to be too constrained by the demands of the rhyming scheme, especially in the chorus.

To my mind the weakest songs on this album are the two non-love songs. I don't personally care for songs that admire outlaws, since I don't believe that stealing in fact "hurts no one," even when they rob banks and not individuals. If you do admire that, though, "Ballad of the Newton Boys" is a fine song in the tradition. "Let Them Know What's in Your Eyes" is semi-spoken with a sung chorus, and sounds like a call to action -- but the suggestion offered -- writing to the politicians -- seems to me to be somewhat imbalanced when weighed against the issues raised, and so feels slightly disempowering rather than the empowerment Grez seems to be aiming for.

The liner includes the lyrics to the songs, with a one-sentence comment on each. Only two musicians worked on it: Grez did the singing, acoustic guitar and digital audio, while Carmen Caramanica did a wonderful job with the lead guitar, bass and keyboard. It certainly sounds like a larger group of musicians.

If you're a country fan who isn't pleased with the way country and pop have started to sound like each other, try Bob Grez; you'll like his traditional sound. Bluegrass fans who are interested in exploring the ground between bluegrass and country will also find much to enjoy here, with Grez's blending of bluegrass musical elements with modern instrumentation.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]