There has always been a connection between bluegrass/Appalachian music and the cowboy music of the Old West. Many of the same songs and fiddle tunes written centuries ago in Ireland, Scotland and Britain made their way out West and were adopted and adapted over the years just as they were in the mountains East of the Mississippi River. And, after the Civil War, many native Easterners and Southerners went West and brought their music with them. One can look at the music research done by John Lomax to understand this. While his son Alan Lomax became more famous as a musicologist and folklorist in the early to mid-1900s, his father went westward to Texas and other places before then to do similar research on the music of the cowboys and settlers.
The title of Michael Martin Murphey’s new project says it all, Tall Grass And Cool Water: Cowboy Songs VI, Buckaroo Blue Grass III. Murphey’s distinctive voice and guitar are backed up by musicians such as Pat Flynn, Sam Bush, Craig Nelson, Andy Leftwich, Andy Hall, Charlie Cushman, Mike Bub, Troy Engle, Ronnie McCoury, and Michael’s son, Ryan Murphey.
To be sure, there is less actual bluegrass content on this effort than Murphey’s first two Buckaroo Blue Grass projects. In fact, this is a rather mellow album, recorded at an easy lope geared to bringing these cowboy story songs to life. The highlights include the two faster bluegrass-style cuts, “I’m A Texas Cowboy” and “Way Out There,” which features co-lead vocals by Carin Mari. In the liner notes, Murphey does a good job of explaining the origins of these songs. This all comes together on “The James Gang Trilogy,” which features three numbers based on the life of Jesse and Frank James and Cole Younger. (Rural Rhythm, P.O. Box 660040, Dept. D., Arcadia, CA 91066. www.ruralrhythm.com.) DH