Prior to hearing Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, if you’d told me that I’d get into an album of songs about the American wild west, I’d have said that that was about as likely as me winning a beauty contest.
These things have a nasty habit of surprising you though, and so it proved when I first heard Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs. Upon hearing Marty Robbins’ crystal-clear voice I was instantly drawn into these dozen songs of gunslinging, betrayal and death. By just the second track I was humming along to the oddly familiar melody of “Cool Water”, which for an album that I didn’t have particularly high expectations of is no small achievement.
In the grand tradition of country music, every song here has a story arc and with his strong vocal delivery, Robbins was a master story-teller and balladeer, his pure and clear voice convincing even the most hard-hearted among us to emotionally invest in the characters he is singing about. I for one have never had much interest in cowboy stories, but a well told story is a well told story, and this album is packed full of them. While “El Paso” may have been the album’s (and Robbins’) big hit single, every song on this album is ripe for rediscovery by anyone with a love of popular song.
I have to admit that my original misgivings about Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs were entirely misplaced, and it’s one of those albums that deserves its place in the collection of anyone with an interest in the history of popular song.