Back in the day when CMT was on our TVs I was immediately drawn, as a glasses wearer, to the bespectacled Manuel suit wearing Wylie Gustafson. That was back in 1992 around the time of the release of his Wylie and The Wild West Show debut album. Twenty two years and some twenty album further down the line and, in truth, not a lot has changed. Wylie still plays it straight and true - bridging the gap between (Slim) Whitman and (Dale) Watson. He still loves the west, real country music and he still yodels.
Now dividing his time between ranching and recording he has just released an album who's title suggests he is of a relic, hanging on to old times. He is, in spirit. But his music, to his fans, is more timeless. As he says, on the opening track 21st Century Blues, he is just "a yodelling cowboy in the 21st century". Next up is his take on KD Lang's Diet Of Strange Places a tale about restless movement and loneliness. Hey Maria, was originally on his second album Get Wild but here it returns in a slightly more reflective version on a song that he tells the girl he loved that she would have been better off with him.
From then on we encounter heartache, religion and drink with such songs as Hello Heartache (another new version of an older song), The Book and Big Whiskey (an instrumental). All songs full of twanging guitars, rhythmic beats and nuanced singing. It covers shuffles, waltzes and ballads all in honky tonk mode. The album's second cover is the classic Indian Love Call a song well know for it's yodelling. Wylie is a master at the form and one track here Cutter's Waltz is a instrumental in which the yodel taking the lead line.
Style is something that Gustafson has in spades and his band are right up there with him. He has Dennis Crouch is on upright bass, John McTigue on drums and Jeff Taylor on piano and accordion. Guitars are handled by Wylie, Sam Platts and Jeff Taylor. All sound like they are enjoying themselves on the four day session, which was recorded in Nashville. Larry Marrs who once played with Marty Stuart (among many others) is on hand to add vocal harmonies.
Pushing the boundaries for Wylie Gustafson is more likely to mean extending the area of his ranch than bringing something new to the genre of today's country music. Alt. country did that to the point were some of the music has very little relation to the traditional form. Country music need to progress to survive but it also needs artists who remind and celebrate the original spirit of the music. Wylie and his many Wild West companions have done just that. To the current mainstream he may be viewed as a relic but to many that relic is in fact a treasure