After the final Great Credibility Scare in country music (1985-1989), labels were looking for new acts as they realized Steve Earle, Nancy Griffith and the Desert Rose Band were unlikely to sell millions upon millions of units. One of the acts put forth for success was Wylie and the Wild West Show, a country and western amalgamation blending the music of frontier ranches and small town drive-ins for those primed for some boot-scootin'.
It didn't work.
Oh, the music was absolutely terrific, without doubt - as much Marshall Crenshaw as Merle & the Strangers. "This Time" set the table for fairly rapid escalation, but subsequent singles (despite heavily-played CMT videos) were only moderately successful and Wylie Gustafson stayed on the periphery of the mainstream industry.
All cattle, no hat, Gustafson is a Montana rancher with a distinctive voice and a sly grin who has maintained duel careers across more than 30 years, releasing a new album of heavy C&W every couple years.
"2000 Miles From Nashville" succeeds on all counts.
"Nashville never wanted me," Gustafson freely admits just 30 seconds into his 21st album and is as quick to add, "I never wanted Nashville." Rather than delivering a trough full of bitter brew, Gustafson sings with pride of the dusty, high plains trail he has elected to wander.
The immediately appealing "Stranded on a Gravel Road" hints at the melody of Earle's "Devil's Right Hand," and "Cowboy Vernacular" features Gustafson's finely hewn wordplay; bonus points for bravely dropping trichomoniasis into the rhythm.
Guitar-rich, the 15 tracks are buoyed by Gustafson's Gretsch, the superlative guitars of Kenny Vaughan and Chris Scruggs, as well as contributions from current band member Clayton Parsons and Wild West-vet Mark Thornton. Mike Bub's bottom end is beautiful, deep and propulsive on this multi-faceted, genre-blurring album.
"Little Secret" and "Hope Lives In You" reveals Gustafson's affection for the dramatics of the early rock 'n' roll era, as does a slick interpretation of "Sea of Heartbreak." A pair of Nick Lowe covers ("What's So Funny About Peace, Love, & Understanding" and "I Knew The Bride") are welcome and accessible slices of roots rockin' honky tonk.
Late in the set, Gustafson and his crew head back toward true country love songs and requisite heartache with Robbie Fulks' "Tears Only Run One Way" and "Road to Narvacan" before wrapping with a spot-on instrumental take of "(Ghost) Riders In The Sky."
In 45 minutes, Wylie & The Wild West capture what has been too frequently missing in contemporary country: heart and hooks having nothing in common with arena rock. Revel in this revival of true country music.