Riders in the Sky
One is the group's often overlooked musicianship, based on a grasp of how the best western music was always underpinned by jazz. Few musicians on either the jazz or the country side of the ledger can touch fiddler Woody Paul on a swing fiddle solo like "Cherokee," and bassist Too Slim and occasional accordionist Joey the Cowpolka King realize that dance rhythms are important even when nobody's dancing. The fiddle-and-guitar interaction of Paul and Green puts western music aficionados in mind of Hugh and Karl Farr, the Texas brother duo who put the zing in the music of the greatest of the 1930s cowboy acts (and the one in which Roy Rogers got his start), the Sons of the Pioneers.
The Sons of the Pioneers inspired Riders in the Sky in other ways as well in their close trio harmonies and amazing trio yodels, for example. Most important of all was how Sons of the Pioneers songwriters Bob Nolan (who was Canadian) and Tim Spencer looked for sheer poetry in cowboy imagery. You'll hear subjective, reflective Sons of the Pioneers songs like "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" and "Cool Water" at a Riders in the Sky concert, and Ranger Doug's many originals have a poetic cast grounded in both a measure of reverential myth-remaking and a bit of distance.
Riders in the Sky visit the Ark on Sunday, October 20. A big crowd for this semihometown act is probable, so don't delay on those tickets.
[Originally published in October, 2002.]