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Wylie and the Wild West

Rocketbuster – 2011 (Hi-Line)

Reviewed by Don Armstrong

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CDs by Wylie and the Wild West

Wylie Gustafson - at least the version of him available to us through his music and YouTube videos and in the writing and photographs from his 17 albums - is nothing if not good natured. Seriously, can you see Jay-Z or Chris Daughtry in the pose atop a firing rocket that graces the cover of Wylie & the Wild West's new CD, "Rocketbuster"? No, you can't. Not even with Photoshop.

Throughout his career, Wylie - as he's usually called - has been game for such shenanigans, usually with a horse nearby and, often, while flying through the air as he plucks a guitar. Movement is big to Wylie, and his music has many throwback elements, such as the yodel he originated for Yahoo!, versions of which he shows off on "Rocketbuster" in the very competent, early-Cash-esque Got My Yodeler Goin' and the more middling Yodel Man.

Even more fun is the rockabilly Yo Yo Ma ("Down in the land of Mao Tse-tung/A peasant couple had a little musical son"); the country-folk number Summer Leases, featuring fine guitar work by Mark Thornton; and perhaps most amusing of all, depending on one's sensibilities, Ugly Girl Blues, with its adamantly uninterested title character - a subtly distinctive take not so surprising coming from Mr. Gustafson.

This feeds the sense that staring back from behind the comedy mask is a cowboy with a tender side. That becomes harder to ignore once you hear Willing Horse, an allegory about an overly demanding lover that ranks with Wylie's finest compositions - and not a bad vocal performance either. Wylie may not take himself seriously, but does take tender ballads - Montana Love Song and the Buddy Holly-Norman Petty nugget True Love Ways also qualify - that way. Beware the comic who's wiped off his clown makeup.