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Music Reviews

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August 23, 1995

The Bronze Buckaroo

Herb JeffriesHerb Jeffries, The Bronze Buckaroo Rides Again (Warner Western 1995) - Don't be fooled by this album's cover. Herb Jeffries is not part of the regular Warner Western crowd, which embraces such cowboy artists as local favorites Sons of the San Joaquin and Waddie Mitchell.

Instead, Jeffries is a long-time jazz singer, whose career began in 1933 with Earl "Fatha" Hines, and continued with a long stint with Duke Ellington. Though Jeffries sold nearly 14 million records and recorded such jazz classics as "Flamingo" and "Angel Eyes," he also starred in a series of all-black westerns in the 30s. And that's the starting point for The Bronze Buckaroo Rides Again.

Now age 83, Jeffries is a distinguished and scholarly gentleman. However, his past is not completely spotless, as he was married for a time to the famed stripper, Tempest Storm, and also owned and operated a nightclub in Paris.

However, Jeffries vividly recalls touring in the 30s before all-black audiences in the midwest and south, where he encountered "a little group of white boys running away from a little black child. He was sobbing away, so I went over to see what those boys had done to him.

Adds Jeffries, "Well, he said they were all good pals, but they had started playing cowboys, and since no one had ever seen a black cowboy at any of the Saturday matinees, they just didn't see any way he could fit in with their cowboy bunch. That got my hackles up."

As a result, Jeffries got himself cast as the first (and last) singing black cowboy. Speaking with pride, Jeffries notes that "The movies we made allowed the children to watch people of their race living in dignity on the land and sitting tall in the saddle. After all, the outdoors is in us, and we are outdoors people from our beginnings...And our movies had the virtue of being like their white counterparts from our beginning...little morality plays.

With perfect production work from Jim Ed Norman, and guest appearances from Little Texas, Take 6, Michael Martin Murphey, and the Mills Brothers, The Bronze Buckaroo Rides Again has an authentic western feel that highlights Jeffries' perfect pacing and delivery.

Back in the dayThough only 28 minutes long (which, in this day and age, is only half an album), there are many highlights from the golden-voice Jeffries, including the swinging "Cow Cow Boogie," the traditional "Back in the Saddle Again," and the range song, "I'm a Happy Cowboy."

Jeffries continues: "Maybe one of the most important outgrows of the civil rights struggle was that our history became as important to us as other people's histories were to them. Information seemed a long time in coming, but now we know much more about our part in the common history of this land and its people, and a wonderful and striking part of that common history involves the black cowboys."

Jeffries comes across as a decent and caring person, and this shows on The Bronze Buckaroo Rides Again. The album is a unique hybrid jazz/western disc, with just enough twang and steel guitar to please the country audience. If you've never encountered Herb Jeffries, start with this album.

Donna ReedVarious Artists, Donna Reed's Dinner Party (Nick at Nite Records/550 Music) - Okay, it sounds ultra campy. Donna Reed's Dinner Party? But it's actually a great 35-minute collection of love songs and dinner ballads from the late 50s and early 60s. To top it off, Donna offers her own tongue-in-check comments. All in all, it's a tasty serving of Americana.

The album features such impeccable standards as "Chances Are" by Johnny Mathis, "Unchained Melody by Roy Hamilton, Percy Faith's "Theme from a Summer Place," and "Somewhere My Love" by Ray Conniff.

You'll be surprised how well this material has held up over the years. In particular, I was amazed by "The Men in My Little Girl's Life" by Mike Douglas: it's a wonderful tearjerker.

In addition, Donna adds her cheerful, helpful comments. As Donna notes, "Set the proper mood as soon as your guests step into the foyer by playing Doris Day's signature song, "Whatever Will Be, Will Be (Que Cera, Cera)...I have found that the easiest way to usher everyone to the dinner table is to play "Johnny Angel" by Shelley Fabares."

Donna continues, "Just match each musical number to the appropriate party moment, and you're on the way to being crowned the most popular hostess on your block...I sincerely hope these little hints are helpful to you in making your parties fun and memorable. It's nice to know this gorgeous music is always here for you whenever you get in the entertaining mood."

You might think it's just a joke, but Donna Reed's Dinner Party is actually a very coherent album. Forget the faux lounge music that some bands are promoting - get the real thing. Enjoy this greatest hits package.

Honesty Award -- When discussing his recent appearances at the Acadamy Awards and the Grammy Awards, Neil Young said "It's wonderful to get recognized, but it's a real surface thing...You know the bottom line of those award shows? It's a nice chance to see your wife dress up."

-- Randy Krbechek

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