Mike Blakely,
West of You
(Swing Rider, 1999)

West of You emphasizes the western aspect of country-western music, with many songs emphasizing western lives and lore. Mike Blakely, who also writes western novels (13 to date), has a particular fondness for cowboys and they feature in many of the songs here, as do other classic features of the legendary West. The songwriting and musicianship are well-done, and the album pleasant to listen to -- even for someone like me who is not his ideal audience for reasons of gender, location and lifestyle.

Several of the songs have an appeal wider than western. "3/4 Moon, 3/4 Time" is a simple and beautiful love waltz, and would be a stand-out anywhere. "Too Long at the Dance" and "Letter to Angelina" are touching and poetic evocations of lost opportunities, while "Guadelupe Moon" is enticing in its evocation of the future.

Horses figure in most of the songs, and are the subjects of several. "Horses in My String" is a detailed and affectionate farewell to some of the horses in the singer's life, and "Here's to Horses" takes light-hearted approach as a dying man looks back on the things he loves.

I liked the Spanish elements in several of the songs, especially "Ridin' For Love." "The Whiskey Trader's Song" is a disturbing look at one of the darker elements of western history, with an appropriately ominous accompaniment.

"The Last Comanche Moon" is a ballad in the old sense, nearly seven minutes long and telling an exciting and tragic story similar in some ways to "The Highwayman," as set to music by Loreena McKennitt.

Western fans will love this album. The songs are solid and well-done, and the stories and situations have a natural appeal for them. Horse lovers will also appreciate the prominent position they hold in Blakely's imagery and text. I'm not as sure of its appeal for a wider audience, though; it's so specifically western in orientation. It's an excellent album for its audience, and others who admire good songwriting will also enjoy it.

[ by Amanda Fisher ]

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