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Way Out West: Saddle Sore Blues (Blue Bhikku) 

It seems like it was decades before anyone outside of the genre was able to take country-and-Western music seriously. And so it is with cowboy-and-Western music, steeped in a tradition too often laced with the clichés of a life out on the range. But for more than a decade, Tucson's Way Out West has distinguished itself outside of the genre.

Strong singing (with great harmonies), good storytelling and the ability to turn standard cowboy fare into clever wordplay all contribute to the album. With the help of the group's annotated liner notes, we can also see where these tunes come from, and how each song is its own portrait or essay.

In "Inspired by Montana," when Emmy Creigh makes reference to Patsy, it might be easy to think she's singing about Patsy Cline—but it's actually Patsy Montana who is the inspiration for a song about Big Sky country. The trumpets in "Train to 'I Don't Care,'" along with Tom Poley's spoken-word-style lyrics, add a whole new dimension to this groove, while the Norteño-inspired "Bacanora," featuring Kevin Schramm on accordion, adds still another layer to the sound. And "Last Shirt You Wear," Poley's surprisingly German-inspired duet with Neil Harry on pedal steel, is just a great song, cowboy, Western or otherwise.

Bassist Slim Rost contributes two of his own strong originals, while an array of special guests including Earl Edmonson (harmonica), Tim O'Connor and Nick Coventry (both on fiddle) help fill out the sound.

More by Jim Lipson

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