Probably the greatest of the "singing cowboy" bands, The Sons Of The Pioneers were one of the most popular country acts of the 1930s, '40s and '50s. Pairing the smooth, amiable vocals of Bob Nolan and the zippy guitar and fiddle of brothers Hugh and Karl Farr, the Sons Of The Pioneers sound was, quite simply, classic. The group went through many different lineups, including the orginal trio of Bob Nolan, Roy Rogers and Tim Spencer, and later on such stalwarts as Deuce Spriggens, Doye O'Dell and Lloyd Perryman. The Sons frequently backed Rogers in film and on record, well after he had changed his name (from Leonard Skye) and emerged as one of the biggest Hollywood cowboy stars. Spencer and Nolan both left the band in 1949, though it continued on in name for decades to come. Here's a quick look at some of their classic work...
The Sons Of The Pioneers "Symphonies Of The Sage" (Soundies, 2001)
The best of the singing cowboy bands, performing in their prime during a 1940-41 lull in their recording career. These transcription discs have great sound quality and even greater song selection. The brother duo of Hugh and Karl Farr provide excellent lead and backup on fiddle and guitar, the vocals are peppy and precise as always. Fans of the Pioneers sound will have to snap this one up -- it's rare material that's seeing CD release for the first time ever. Very nice... highly recommended!
The Sons Of The Pioneers "Country Music Hall Of Fame Series" (MCA, 1991)
Outstanding retrospective of the best "cowboy" bands ever; from their first 1934 recordings with Roy Rogers in the band, to their final Decca sessions in 1954 (when none of the original members were left in the band). The disc includes charming topical songs among the standard ride 'em, cowboy sentimental schmaltz (such as the New Deal propaganda of "When Our Old Age Pension Check Comes To Our Door" and the post-Pearl Harbor "Private Buckaroo.") To be sure, the Sons were formulaic, but its such a sweet sound, you gotta love it. Highly recommended!
The Sons Of The Pioneers "Columbia Historic Series" (Columbia, 1988)
More classic material, also highly recommended. This set is perhaps a bit smoother, and more polished than the others reviewed above, though every bit as enjoyable. Cowboy music doesn't get better than this!
The Sons Of The Pioneers "Ultimate Collection" (MCA-Nashville/Hip-O, 2002)
Although I can't say that I'm wild about the cover art, this is a really, really nice collection of classic Sons material, spanning the band's career from 1934-54, when they were absolutely at their peak. This collection easily supercedes the "Hall Of Fame" disc listed above -- the sound quality is much warmer, and the programming is great. Then again, there isn't that much overlap between the two, so there's really no reason not to own them both. Great stuff -- one of the most listenable cowboy albums out there!
The Sons Of The Pioneers "Under Western Skies" (Varese Sarabande, 2005)
The seemingly inexhaustible supply of old western-themed singing cowboy material featuring the Sons Of The Pioneers -- Roy Rogers' pals and longtime backing band -- continues unabated with this fine set of radio transcriptions of undocumented provenance. This is actually very early material for the Sons, apparently dating back to the 1930s. They already sound somewhat jaded and businesslike, doling out perfect little cowboy songs like convicts stamping license plates. Actually, though, that's one of the things I like about these old radio performances, is hearing the live, showbiz side of these old artist's careers, how they handled their obligatory, perfunctory commercial duties, and how they sounded, as the consummate professionals they were... And make no mistake, this disc gives a good glimpse at the band in its early years...
The Sons Of The Pioneers "Western Harmony And Hot Swing, v.1" (BACM, 2005)
The Sons Of The Pioneers "Western Harmony And Hot Swing, v.2" (BACM, 2005)
Hugh & Karl Farr "Hot 'N' Bluesy Fiddle/Guitar And Twin Guitar Duets: 1934-1940"
Wow. The Farr Brothers were the backup pickers who added the musical punch to many of the best old recordings of the Sons Of The Pioneers, and of Pioneers alumnus Gene Autry. Left to their own devices, they knocked out a slew of great instrumentals, like the ones on this disc. The surprising thing is how completely jazzy these tracks are. If you like old recordings from the likes of Django Rinehardt, or Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti's duets, then you owe it to yourself to check this disc out. It's hot and sweet, and very listenable.
Hank Snow "Snow Under Western Skies" (Bear Family, 2008)
A cowboy-themed set from Canadian country superstar Hank Snow, gathering oldies from his pre-Nashville days, radio recordings and songs from his 1965 Sons Of The Pioneers tribute, Heartbreak Trail. Ride 'em, cowboy!
Tim Spencer "Circuit Ridin' Preacher" (Sacred Records, 1958) (LP)
A founding member of the Sons Of The Pioneers, songwriter Tim Spencer had a spiritual conversion in the 1940s, and gave up secular singer for religious music... He stuck with RCA Records for a while, running their religious music department, then founded his own label, Manna Records, in the '50s. This album features Spencer and his family singing on a set of music, including the title track, a western-tinged narrative sung to the same melody as "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic."
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