Elko! A Cowboy's Gathering
Since the 1990s, Americans have witnessed the biggest renaissance of cowboy poetry and singing since the silver screen appearance of yodeling cowpokes in the 1930-'40s. Of course there's no one -- popularity wise -- to compare to Gene Autry or Roy Rogers, and no one has offered any of these ranch hands acting contracts. Still, Elko!, a two-disc set recorded live at the 20th anniversary of the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, Nevada, represents the full flowering of contemporary cowboy music as well as marking it as an established movement. The wide array of styles within the form -- poetry, instrumental work, and songs -- is impressive. Baxter Black's "Baxter on Elko" offers a folksy history of the gathering, while Hot Club of Cowtown delivers a swinging take on "Ragtime Annie." The collection works best when cowboys and cowgirls stick to the funny stories and fun -- or at least upbeat -- songs. The pathos of Jannie Haig's "Not Gone" is a bit overwrought, while Andy Wilkinson's "Angels Can Do No More" tries, but never quite overcomes, sentimentality. One might complain that the West -- for the most part -- is still primarily a man's world, and that's true here. Overall, though, this is a fun, intriguing collection, and a good introduction to a truly American form.