Various Artists: Boots, Buckles & Spurs

[25 November 2008]

By Juli Thanki

What better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) than to release a collection of some of the best cowboy songs ever recorded? With Boots, Buckles and Spurs , the NFR, in conjunction with Legacy Recordings and the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, has produced a box set spanning eight decades of cowboy music along with liner notes composed by Neal Reid that manage to be a tribute to the NFR, as well as a mini-history lesson for those non-rodeo fans out there.

Boots, Buckles and Spurs contains all the standard songs and artists and tends to keep it on the straight and narrow, though surprises appear in the form of Robert Earl Keen and Vince Gill. Disc One starts with Gene Autry’s “Back in the Saddle Again” (1939) and includes songs from Marty Robbins, Eddy Arnold and Bob Wills; Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson also figure prominently on the first two discs: both separately, as a duo (“Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys”) and with Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson as the Highwaymen. Disc Three features more recent cowboy songs. Rodney Crowell’s “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues” is a gem, while George Strait’s “I Can Still Make Cheyenne” and Merle Haggard’s “An American Cowboy” are the epitome of modern cowboy songs that don’t succumb to the cheesiness of over macho chest-thumping.

Although rodeo is predominantly a boys’ club, it makes sense that only a few women appear on this box set. The second song of the collection is the Patsy Montana hit “I Want to be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”. Jessi Colter, Tanya Tucker, Lynn Anderson and Suzy Bogguss also make appearances, though their subject matter more or less restricts to how much they love their cowboy. Boots, Buckles and Spurs has one glaring omission: Where is singing cowgirl Dale Evans? Husband Roy Rogers shows up with the Sons of the Pioneers on “Stampede,” but to ignore the Roy and Dale collaboration on cowboy classic “Happy Trails” is a sin.

Interestingly enough, while Boots, Buckles and Spurs contains some of the best cowboy songs ever written, it manages to include some of the worst ones, too. Case in point: Montgomery Gentry’s cover of Bon Jovi 1987 classic “Wanted Dead or Alive”. Where’s the rodeo in the land of strip malls, blue eye shadow and the Jersey Shore? However, the original version of the song trumps this monstrosity-masquerading-as-country-music simply due to the fact that one member of this marginally talented duo wears a cowboy hat. The head scratching continues with the additon of “When Cowboys Didn’t Dance” by Lonestar (aka those twerps that inflicted “Amazed” on the American public), a song praising the old days in which cowboys “didn’t wear designer shirts.” Pot, have you met kettle?

Despite these few false steps, Boots, Buckles and Spurs still classifies as a damn good collection for all those modern day drifters whose heroes have always been cowboys.

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