ARTIST: Marty Robbins
TITLE: Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs
YEAR RELEASED: 1959
CHART ACTION: #6 US, #20 UK
SINGLES: El Paso (#1 US, #1 US Country, #19 UK), Big Iron (#26 US, #5 US Country, #48 UK)
OTHER SONGS YOU MAY KNOW: Cool Water, The Masters Call
LINEUP: Marty Robbins, Grady Martin, Jack Pruett, Bob Moore, Louis Dunn, Tompall Glaser and the Glaser Brothers.
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT: Country singer records THE quintessential western album and influences many cowboy singers then and now.
SOME WORDS, PHRASES AND CLAUSES ABOUT THIS RECORD: While Robbins had a long recording career (which I’ll cover when he comes up again with a hits collection), this is probably the one full album that isn’t just hits + filler, as it’s got a definite theme and purpose.
Cowboy and western songs may seem a bit old-fashioned and passe now (for good reason), at the time with westerns dominating TV and other media it made sense that a country artist would modernize the Roy Rogers / Gene Autry genre and move that genre forward. Robbins did, on the back of “El Paso” and “Big Iron” two originals penned by Robbins that broke into the popular culture.
The rest of the album is solid as well – though nothing matches those two songs. Robbins’ vocals, while very smooth and polished, do evoke the west, and the arrangements by producer Don Law also are very fitting for the mood.
The harmonies by Tompall Glaser and the Glaser Brothers are the key to “El Paso” being so memorable. Those supporting vocals make the song bigger and the story more poignant as they switch from a solo vocal to harmony.
NOTES & MINUTIAE: Six of the twelve songs, including three Robbins originals, were voted as part of the Top 100 Western Songs of all time by the Western Writers of America.
IS THERE A DELUXE VERSION: Yes, with three songs (including a single that preceded the album, “The Hanging Tree” (#38 US, #15 US Country). However, Sony re-sequenced the original album for some reason. I put it back the way it was.
GRADE: B+: A lot better than most all country albums from the era – since Robbins made it a concept album and each song fit into the theme well..