Tuesday, August 23, 2011


Marty Robbins - Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs (1959)

Many of the songs on this album could easily have played over the opening credits of The Big Lebowski instead of the one the Coens eventually went with: Tumbling Tumbleweeds. Marty Robbins' cowboy songs have that same half-authentic, half-artificial feel to them. His voice seems far too delicate, even pretty, for the gritty subject matter. I somehow doubt the men who worked and ranged over the land back in olden days spent much time indulging their passion for barbershop harmonizing. And yet that's part of what makes this selection of songs so compelling. I think smart people call it "tension". 

I'll tell you this: If I were trying to write the script for an ironic Western, many songs from this album would definitely be in heavy rotation in my "tunes to write by" mix. Robbins paints a picture, and even if sometimes it's a goofy, kitschy picture, it's always painted quite well, with all the little details in place. The spurs and revolvers shine. The oiled leather saddles glow warm and golden. You can almost see Lee Van Cleef crouching behind a papier-mâché boulder, drawing a bead on you. And there's the stage-hand, just beyond the Saloon facade, tossing a tumbleweed in your direction just as the 2nd AC chops the air with his black-and-white clapperboard. 

It's just a bit of harmless fun, and I didn't hate it, like I thought I would. So sue me!

Had I heard it before? Chunks of "Cool Water" and "El Paso" have been permanently engraved into the side of my brain since early childhood, thanks to those K-Tel commercials way back when.
Do I like it? More than I thought I would.
Am I keeping it? Yes.
Standout Tracks? "Cool Water", "Big Iron", "El Paso", "Come Back to the Valley"

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