Under Western Skies Box set, Import
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(4-CD LP-sized box with 60-page book) Although he lived most of his life in Nashville, Marty Robbins never really left the American West behind. He proved that he could masterfully reinterpret classic western ballads, as well as write new ones every bit as good as the old ones. His western recordings for both Columbia and MCA are complete here, spanning the years 1958-1979. The set starts with The Hanging Tree, then encompasses the best-selling Gunfighter Ballads albums that included such classic tracks as El Paso, Big Iron, Tonight Carmen, Mister Shorty and The Cowboy In The Continental Suit as well as the El Paso follow-ups such as Feleena From El Paso and El Paso City. Marty mixed self-composed epics with many of the greatest vintage western songs to create a tapestry of music that powerfully evokes the old west and the west in transition.
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Top Customer Reviews
What a bunch of great songs! Native Arizonan Robbins really is at his best when singing songs of the old west, his golden voice being perfectly suited to the genre. I am not sure if "all" of Marty's western songs are contained in this four CD set, but it must be substantially complete. There are songs of love, songs of good vs. evil, spiritual songs, and songs that glorify the simple life and the beauty of the wide open spaces. There are songs that nod to the Spanish/Mexican heritage of the Southwest and others that sing the praises of the cowboy and the gringo interloper who came to conquer and tame a wild and beautiful land. Perhaps the only song that doesn't really fit the theme of the set is the last song on the last CD, Shotgun Rider.
Now, on any project of this magnitude, there are bound to be a few dogs like the song just mentioned and a few songs that are merely weak. Marty had a tendency to go back to El Paso for inspiration, it was after all his greatest hit. And the listener will notice that on perhaps a half dozen songs. But beyond that, the purchase of this box set will buy you many hours of listening bliss.
There are two overt clues to this method. First, there are the four interlinked songs "El Paso," "Feleena (from El Paso)," "San Angelo" and "El Paso City," all recorded in separate projects over 17 years but basically telling the same story. Bear Family provide alternate singles and album mixes of both "El Paso" and "San Angelo," and in both cases the earlier take is the better. Second, there was a 1976 UK compilation called BORDER TOWN AFFAIR which united the hit story-song and its sequel, along with assorted Tejano songs from the TONIGHT CARMEN album.
I've just relistened to all four CDs in one marathon session to test the supposition of artistic continuity. The three gunslinger albums form a prologue subgroup, DRIFTER and TONIGHT CARMEN culminate the cycle in a blaze of musical glory, and finally EL PASO CITY and ALL AROUND COWBOY bring the cycle into modern times with aviating rodeo cowboys, a very porous Southwest border and the ongoing significance, from both sides, of El Rio Grande del Norte.
The monotonous gunfighter ballads have not worn very well, but casual collectors and newbies will want them. The trail songs are permanent, and I'm struck by how well Robbins' voice meshes fraternally with the brothers Glaser in recreating Sons of the Pioneers close harmonies. The gunfighter's third album is by far the best in that subgroup, along with DRIFTER slowly inching the big Feleena/El Paso/San Angelo saga into more modern times and more complex charts for the songs. The centerpiece album TONIGHT CARMEN is unique and exceptionally beautiful. (Robbins seldom sang in Spanish--he belatedly did so on the 1978 single "Return to me"--but made half an album of Spanish-language standards, released on the 1973 compilation BOUND FOR OLD MEXICO.) TONIGHT CARMEN is Robbins' sole full-length Latinate project, prominently featuring impassioned falsetto crooning, and it's packed with Robbins originals and very offbeat Tejano ballads. Here the strumming guitars are augmented with mariachi brass and marimba, the same formula used a decade later on the equally fine EL PASO CITY.
At current prices UNDER WESTERN SKIES will cost less than separate integral album releases, and this is Bear Family's usual deluxe packaging, lavish booklet, discography, restored sound and all.