I always believed in the significance of this record because of two things. One, I truly enjoyed it for years. And two, it would, with reasonable consistency, clear my place of unwanted guests. It invariably elicited a response I viewed as important. I spent a great deal of lethargic thought mulling over the unusual qualities of Gunfighter Ballads. I've played far… Read More
worse albums that would be more negatively received, but this one would embarrass
people, especially people concerned with being hip. The answer I came up with, and it's pretty lame, is that most everyone liked cowboy songs as a child, and to do so now would put them in fear of being childish.
So much for the motivation. The first thing that might come to mind after a single listening of Gunfighter Ballads is that Country and Western are quite different in nature, and to lump them together can be misleading. The Western ballad is of different descent than the Country music from east of the Great Plains. While the sentiment and thinking behind these songs is definitely Anglo-Saxon, the music, like the land from which they came, was swiped from Mexico. The most famous song on the album, "El Paso," has each verse set off by a most Mariachi-like guitar. Only the guitar is electric.
In fact, this is a very impure example of cowboy singing. It's double tracked, overdubbed and chorused to the limit. But, it doesn't pass the limit and all the electronics make it easier for rock people to listen to. It's a link.
But it isn't the production that makes this album great. Marty Robbins has put out the most intolerable Karo syrup with arrangements similar to these. It's that Robbins has a beautiful voice and these are great songs.
While it seems that about three-quarters of modern country music concerns itself with adultery and divorce, these songs have little of that. They are, like all good Westerns, filled with murder and mayhem, bronc busting and cattle rustling. In other words, they're suitable for children.
Robbins sings a fine ballad, one of many in existence, about the West's most celebrated adenoidal moron from Brooklyn, Billy the Kid. He also does a high shimmering version of "Cool Water," one of the most recorded Western songs. There are two songs about land, which was a dominant force in Western life, and still is: "Down In The Little Green Valley," and "A Hundred and Sixty Acres," which, if you remember your American history, is the size of a homestead.
But, except for those last three and one other, "Strawberry Roan," the other songs are about violent death, which actually shouldn't be too surprising in a record about gunfighters.
Fully four of the songs employ that device peculiar to Western songs, that of being related in the first person b