I say that Bob Nolan did as much as anyone to popularize western music. Bob is a legend in Country (and western) music; a member of the Country Music Hall Of Fame; prolific songwriter; founding member of one of the most famous groups of all-time, The Sons Of The Pioneers.
Just a few weeks ago (last days of December, 2018), I ran across a copy of Bob’s album The Sound Of A Pioneer. Released in 1979, it was Bob’s final recordings before his passing in June, 1980. In addition the tracks were Bob’s first solo work since 1953, when he had recorded some for RCA. Also his first recordings of any kind since having recorded a few tracks with the Pioneers in 1956. Snuff Garrett produced the album in Hollywood, and Elektra released it in 1979.
The album is an interesting mix of classic and contemporary songs, performed in a western style that with a little imagination, one could easily hear Tim Spencer, Roy Rogers, and the Farr brothers joining in. However, don’t take that to mean the sound was dated, it wasn’t. Garrett’s production and arranging gave a fresh feel, that holds up well, even forty years later. At 71 years of age, the voice is a shell of it’s former glory, yet still gushes with an authenticity rarely heard in today’s hum-drum morass of sameness. This is great, real western music, the kind you imagine hearing around the camp fire under starry skies.
The album features wonderful renditions of the classics “Cool Water” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds”. Both songs were composed by Nolan and made famous during his days with The Sons Of The Pioneers. There are other Bob Nolan-penned songs, here, as well. “He Walks With The Wild and The Lonely” is an easy flowing ballad that is actually enhanced with Nolan’s aged voice. Another composition of his, “The Touch Of God’s Hand” is also beautiful, with it’s descriptive lyrics of what many would proclaim to be “God’s Country”. “Wandering” and “Old Home Town” are also worthy tracks.
Bob Nolan didn’t write “Texas Plains” (Stuart Hamblen did), but he gives a fun, lively take on this classic.
There are also several then-contemporary titles to be heard, as well. The most interesting of that group is Billy Joe Shaver’s “Ride Me Down Easy”, a Bobby Bare hit. Needless to say, the Bob Nolan version sounds nothing like Bobby’s version. But it works. He sings it in a slower, laid-back style that comes off really well as a western-style song.
Also enjoyable are his covers of the Rex Allen Jr. hit “Can You Those Pioneers” and Marty Robbins’ hit ballad “Man Walks Among Us”, which features Marty as a guest vocalist. It’s another wonderful western rendition that is enhanced by Bob’s aged vocals, which give a feel of someone who’s been there on the prairie and seen it all.
I really like this album. The vocal work of Bob Nolan is presented in such a way as to take advantage of the age and experience that comes through each note. Listening to these songs, you feel like you are hearing someone who really was on the Texas plains; really watched tumbleweeds tumbling across the prairie; who really lived what these songs say. There is also a touch of sadness, as well, listening to this album. The sadness that comes from knowing this was his swan song, the last music he would record. In a way, it feels like he’s saying goodbye to us, riding into the sunset, as we listen to him one last time.
I recommend getting this album if you ever see a copy. In addition to it’s original release formats of vinyl and tape, it has been on CD, as well. I can’t wait until the opportunity opens up for our Ultimate Twang radio show to return. When it does, I will definitely be spinning a track or two from this album.
Mike the Country Musicologist is a lifelong music and radio fanatic, lover of vintage agriculture, and big sports fan, including the Colts, Reds, Hurricanes, Pacers, Purdue & Butler Universities. He has collected records since childhood, and focuses on classic country and top 40 oldies music. He convinced Vincennes University to give him an Associate’s Degree in broadcasting. He’s worked for several stations in Indiana and North Carolina. Be sure to follow him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.