For his newest release, John Lowell—the 2021 Winner of the Hazel Dickens Songwriting Contest—brings us a collection of songs with a Western theme. Lowell—a longtime Montana resident—is a veteran performer, guitar player, and songwriter with over thirty-five years of experience. He will be best known to bluegrass fans for his work with the bands Loose Ties and Kane’s River. He is also known for his duo work with mandolin player Ben Winship in The Growling Old Men.
Although She’s Leaving Cheyenne is not a bluegrass recording, it does feature solid songwriting, phenomenally tasteful flatpick guitar playing and fine fiddling and mandolin playing. Lowell loves to write and sing story songs and the collection he has put together for this recording—a mix of cover tunes and his original songs—is superb. There is an eclectic mix of song styles here ranging from singer-songwriter, Western swing, cowboy, to spoken word. The spoken word song is “Sarah Hogan,” which is the song John is probably the most famous for writing. Here it is rendered in spoken word as if you are hearing an old cowboy storyteller tell the tale while sitting at a prairie camp fire.
My favorite cuts on this album include the title cut “She’s Leaving Cheyenne,” (written by Lowell) “The Lonesome Western Trail,” (written by Jim Schultz) and “Belgian Jennie” (by Tim Stafford). Lowell’s rendition of Woody Guthrie’s “Philadelphia Lawyer” is also strong. Five of the twelve cuts on this recording are Lowell originals. Eleven of the cuts are vocals songs. The one instrumental that appears on this recording is Bela Fleck’s “Big Country.”
If you like music with a Western theme and well written story songs expertly delivered, you will love She’s Leaving Cheyenne.