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Wylie and the Wild West

Relic – 2013 (Hi-Line)

Reviewed by Brian Baker

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Wylie Gustafson has been a yodeling cowboy for over a quarter century, starting his Wild West Show in 1988, truncating the name to simply the Wild West shortly thereafter. He's been an actual cowboy for much longer, working his family's Montana farm since he was old enough to rope and ride. In fact, Gustafson's back story is ripe for the telling; he learned how to ranch and to yodel from his father (who's written two books about his career as a Montana veterinarian), the whole family was featured in Dodge's "God Made a Farmer" spot in last year's Super Bowl, he's a decorated horseman and it is Gustafson's superior yodeling skills behind Yahoo's signature ad tags, as well as a number of other high profile commercial clients. Oh, and he's released 19 studio and live albums and toured relentlessly over the past 26 years.

The title of Wylie & the Wild West's 20th album is a tongue-in-cheek jab at Gustafson's highly visible obscurity. A relic is a revered object from a bygone era, and Gustafson makes a case for his man-out-of-time perspective with the high stepping lead-off track, 21st Century Blues, which features the recurring lyric, "Just trying to make a living as a yodeling cowboy in the 21st century."

While he's not generating Garth Brooks' numbers, Gustafson is not nearly as out of step as he would have us believe; the next track is an absolutely compelling cover of k.d. lang's heartrending Diet of Strange Places. Other than a brisk take on the classic Indian Love Call, the rest of "Relic" is comprised of Gustafson originals, songs that amplify the roots of pure country while crackling with a contemporary energy; the laconic Hey Maria, the loping Hello Heartache and the mournful Without You could have been country-is-king hits in the '60s but they're just as viable in Gustafson's 21st century, a place he's way more comfortable - and welcome - than he lets on.