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Hilary Gardner: On the Trail With the Lonesome Pines

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Hilary Gardner: On the Trail With the Lonesome Pines
It might be hard for the young'uns to believe, but there was a time when movie houses and television screens were filled with westerns. Tales of cowpokes and their trusty horses, outlaws, dogies and tumblin' tumbleweeds were so popular that various sub-genres of westerns flourished as brand extensions. One of these featured the singing cowboy trope, and elevated such figures as Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter and most notably, Gene Autry, to stardom.

The songs they sang were western-ish, not really country, and relied heavily on stock imagery. You do not hear these songs much anymore. In truth, many have not aged well while others seem so distant from contemporary culture that heard again, they can deliver the shock of the new.

Enter Alaska-born vocalist Hilary Gardner, who clearly loves this material and has chosen a program of 12 cowboy songs for her passion project On the Trail with The Lonesome Pines.

The first thing to note is that Gardner presents this material absolutely straight. There is not a hint of condescension or winking postmodernist irony here. Strip away the fringed-vest and sequined costuming and what you have is a program of pop tunes from the 1930s and '40s, many of them with a conventional AABA structure, written by New York or Hollywood composers (Johnny Mercer, Frank Loesser and even Benny Carter are among the tenderfoots represented).

Gardner sings with a lovely, clear tone and a welcome absence of twang. The way her sustained notes ascend into dreamy reverie can recall another daughter of the West, Linda Ronstadt, as well as countless pop vocalists of yesteryear. Jo Stafford comes to mind. She is immensely aided by the sensitive and genre-appropriate work of her band, especially guitarist Justin Poindexter whose clean-toned, baritonal sound immediately establishes the aural mise-en-scène. Noah Garabedian puts some giddy-up into the rhythm from the bass chair and drummer Aaron Thurston has mastered the now-arcane skill of moving a shuffle forward on brushes. Sasha Papernik adds atmospheric accordion on two cuts.

But Gardner is the singing cowgirl star of the session, investing these sometimes corny songs with a care and dignity that would not be out of place in Ella Fitzgerald's landmark Songbooks series.

Like that material, this is largely a collection of love songs, though the sincerest emotion here is often reserved not for a sweetheart back home, but for the Western landscape. These odes to purple mountains and starry skies—and a lot of sunsets—serve as a reminder that at the time this music was written, the West was as exotic to most of the North American population as Tahiti or Paris.

You do not have to remember the Saturday double features of cheaply produced oaters to relish Hilary Gardner's carefully curated and affectionately performed love letter to the Old and not-so-wild West. Saddle up and enjoy the ride.

Track Listing

Along the Navajo Trail; Cow Cow Boogie; Call of the Canyon; Under Fiesta Stars; Silver on the Sage; Jingle Jangle Jingle (I Got Spurs); A Cowboy Serenade (While I'm Smokin' My Last Cigarette); Song of the Sierras; Along the Santa Fe Trail; Lights of Old Santa Fe; I'm an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande); Twilight on the Trail.

Personnel

Additional Instrumentation

Justin Poindexter: mandolin, organ, vocal; Sasha Papernik: accordion (4, 5).

Album information

Title: On the Trail With the Lonesome Pines | Year Released: 2024 | Record Label: Anzic Records


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