Wylie & the Wild West,
Hooves of the Horses
(Dualtone, 2004)

On the Western-music circuit of today, drugstore cowboys need not apply. You're expected to have an authentic background or, better yet, be currently employed as cowhand, rancher, farmer or rodeo rider. The Wylie of Wylie & the Wild West -- Gustafson is his last name -- has the credentials. He grew up on a ranch in Montana. After stints as a full-time musician and bandleader in Los Angeles and Nashville produced some solid Western-themed albums but no country-radio breakthrough, he and his wife set to ranching in eastern Washington in the mid-1990s. When not otherwise engaged, Gustafson continues to record and tour, his principal audience the same one served by the cowboy poets and by musicians such as Ian Tyson, Don Edwards, Red Steagall and the Sons of the San Joaquin.

Following several Rounder releases, Gustafson and his band have released their first on Dualtone, which is fast becoming the premier roots-country-folk label. The music is mostly acoustic and mostly low-key, with some tastefully chosen familiar songs such as Buddy Holly's "Everyday," Johnny Cash's "Luther Played the Boogie" and Bob Nolan's "Happy Roving Cowboy." Gustafson's crooning originals celebrate horses and the cowboy life in a folk-ballad style reminiscent of Tyson's compositions. They're romantic and sweetly melodic without, however, ever quite slipping into sappiness. And Tom Russell's "The Sky Above, the Mud Below" -- a seven-minute epic of vigilante justice in the Old West -- is downright brutal, as if Gustafson had taken a vow not to let his listeners get too snug or bathe their wide-open spaces in too rosy a glow.

Gustafson is a pro who does what he does well, and what he does grows on you, its pleasures far from exhausted after one listening. A modern-day folk musician playing to real folk (the people of the rural and small-town West), he knows how to make a good record, and he knows how to write or choose a good song and deliver it right. Besides, when he is of a mind to, he can yodel with the best of 'em.

If your tastes run to Western music, you're probably already listening to Wylie & the Wild West. If you don't know what kind of music they're listening to these days out there in what remains of the traditional West and you're curious about it, here's a chance to hear some of the finest.

- Rambles
written by Jerome Clark
published 19 March 2005

Buy it from Amazon.com.