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Review: Jon Chandler, The Gang

Jon Chandler
The Gang
Arroyo Records

You can’t sing about the land if you don’t ride the land. When it comes to the rugged Wyoming terrain, Jon Chandler certainly knows a thing or two since he’s been riding the Outlaw Trail (near Kaycee, WY) with a crew of cowboys since 1978. Hence, the inspiration for The Gang, songs inspired by the annual pilgrimages with vivid campfire and scenic imagery (“Through the Gap”). Additionally, there are glimpses of colorful characters like western journalist Red Fenwick (“Ridin’ With Red”) and a late rider Smokey where the deceased gallops away with spirit riders to the great roundup in the sky. Many songs are played in tempos that give the sensation of riding across the sagebrush prairies, through deep stone canyons and on top of overlooking bluffs.

Call it sophisticated cowboy music if you will. “Ride The Red Wall” is simply an epic; a majestic soundtrack-like instrumental that feels spacious enough to transport one’s soul to the beyond. At various points, Chandler delivers spoken word reflections that makes it feel like as close to a multi-media experience as you’ll likely get, just without the video.

But do pay attention to the liner notes, because without them some songs may feel deceivingly out of place. The hilarious “Bug Guts on the Windshield,” written when one rider was transported to a local hospital, is an amusing account of a husband discovering his wife has been unfaithful. The telltale clue? A bug-splattered windshield indicating that someone snuck into town while the husband was away. The timeless “Oh, Shenandoah!” fits since it was a campfire favorite. Here, Chandler dubs his voice a few times on the intro to make it feel like a resounding men’s choir. Though Chandler doesn’t sing much past after the opening lines, the arrangement, led by guitarist Ernie Martinez’s splendid finger picking, blossoms into a beautiful orchestral swell. A modern western classic, to say the least.

—Dan Willging (Denver, CO)

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