Out West

A Little Western Playlist

The start of a new year can act as a refreshingly clean slate. To celebrate, we created a memory filled, Western-themed playlist.

The net was cast far and wide to find diverse songs and artists that, over the years, have been parts of personal soundtracks for fellow Westerners. Used to be we would hand a friend a cassette with a ribbon on it, then later, a home-burnt CD in an old, cracked Metallica album jewel case. Today, you get links. But no matter how they arrive, playlists create a moment in time – video links included.

1. “Paris, Texas,” from the 1984 soundtrack Paris, Texas by Ry Cooder 

He based his soundtrack and title song “Paris, Texas” on Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was the Night (Cold Was the Ground), which he described as “The most soulful, transcendent piece in all American music.” The soundtrack is deep and haunting, featuring the must-hear slide guitar of Ry Cooder. 

2. “Jaquima to Freno,” from the album All The Good ‘Uns by Ian Tyson

“In the music world of the 1990s,” Tyson explained, “I was riding a post-Cowboyography album wave, doing my best to take Western music to the next level by mixing reggae and other forms with cowboy music. A classic example is ‘Jaquima to Freno,’ originally off my 1991 record, And Stood There Amazed. I really pushed the envelope with that song. I based it on Bob Dylan’s ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ dream fantasy concept. And essentially, I had decided to do a cowboy version of Dylan’s song, but I made it completely different musically. The lyrics of the song are pure fantasy. I knew many of the folklorists might not approve of the song, but the buckaroos loved it, which meant there was nothing the folklorists could do about it. It’s always been one of my most requested songs.” 

Tyson has been called the “Senior Statesman of Western Music” as his songs and lyrics put words and music to the lives of so many in the ranching culture. 

3. “Crazy,” from Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits album

Considered a groundbreaking moment in her career, Patsy Cline’s rendition of Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” is a story in itself. From her difficulty hitting its high notes due to broken ribs from a car accident to the fact that she didn’t like the idea of “over-dubbing” her own voice – “Crazy” would enable Cline to have hits of the song on three different charts in late 1961 and early 1962, reaching #9 on the US Hot 100 and #2 on both the Hot Country Songs and the Adult Contemporary lists. The 1967 album was released four years after her death and would be the largest selling album by a female country artist until the 2001 release of Shania Twain’s album, The Woman in Me.

4. “Lotta Love,” from Nicolette by Nicolette Larson

After singing backup on Neil Young’s 1978 studio country album, Comes A Time, that same year, Nicolette Larson pounced with her self-titled freshman album. Born in Helena, Montana, her musical career took off after Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt introduced her to Young. Larson’s self-titled album was very well received and included such classics as her big hit, “Lotta Love,” “Rhumba Girl” and the always politically correct, “Mexican Divorce.” 

5. “Together Again,” from Elite Hotel by Emmylou Harris

Emmylou Harris entered the spotlight during the singer-songwriter ‘70s with Pieces of The Sky, a solid launch vehicle that she followed up with a strikingly similar sophomore effort in 1975’s Elite Hotel that continued to blend traditional and contemporary elements. The album contained several songs penned by her pal, Gram Parsons, including “Sin City” and “Wheels.” But the big action came with her take on two country standards: Buck Owens’ “Together Again” and Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams” (made famous by, yes, Patsy Cline).

6.  “Four Strong Winds,” from the Neil Young album, Comes a Time

Right after Young’s release of the 1977, seminal three-LP set, Decade, and before the earth-shattering Rust Never Sleeps, Neil Young quietly opened the gate on Comes A Time – a gentle record, yet with some of his most memorable songs. These tracks ranged from “Peace of Mind,” and the aforementioned “Lotta Love,” to a fine rendition of Ian Tyson’s timeless “Four Strong Winds” – a tune that Young described as the “best country song ever written.”

7. “July, You’re A Woman,” from California Bloodlines by John Stewart

In 1961, folk-singer John Stewart joined the legendary Kingston Trio with Bob Shane and Nick Reynolds, writing, performing and helping to steer the group through the tumultuous 1960s. In 1969, Stewart released California Bloodlines, a strong collection that helped define his work for the rest of his career. Stewart’s writing was well respected as many of his songs were covered by the likes of Nancy Griffith, Rosanne Cash, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Joan Baez. “July, You’re A Woman” was one of the breakout songs from the album.

8. “Old Time Vaquero,” from the album Highway 80 by Adrian 

Back in 2007, Adrian Brannan went by just Adrian. She was a real anomaly in the music business. She started singing about the vaquero culture – a true niche – when she was just 14. Her 2007 album, Highway 80, took the far West by storm with her sensitive, older-than-her-years writing. With songs like “Old Time Vaquero,” “Nighttime in Nevada” and the title track, “Highway 80,” this horseback, singer/songwriter knows of what she writes and sings of the life she loves, the people who make up her world and the West that inspires her. 

9. “Space Cowboy,” from Golden Hour by Kacey Musgraves 

In 2013, Kacey Musgraves burst onto the scene following her own creative arrow with her album, Same Trailer Different Park, which produced huge radio airplay with hits like “Merry Go Round” and “Follow Your Arrow.” Her 2018 album, Golden Hour, won the Academy of Country Music Awards Album of the Year and featured her song “Space Cowboy,” which was nominated for Song of the Year. “Space Cowboy” has been described as a “cosmic, country break-up song that slaps.” 

10. “Tonight We Ride,” from Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs  by Tom Russell

Tom Russell’s career, he self-describes, has been a careful climb by his own intent. “My career seems to have gone in the opposite direction from a lot of people whose notoriety came over their first half dozen records,” says Russell. “Mine didn’t. My career built very slowly, and then I moved to El Paso in ’97, further outside than anybody could imagine. By not plugging into the machine, the records I’ve made in the past 20 years have been my strongest and most outside records. It seems that the older I get, the more I’ve been able to keep on the outside.” His 2010 song “Tonight We Ride” has been an anthem for many of his fans’ own outside, yet adventurous, sojourns.

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