By Larry Stephens
I grew up on country music and that included a good dose of Western swing. “New San Antonio Rose” was a favorite in our house. Bob Wills is likely the most famous symbol of this music, but many other artists contributed to the style. A link I’m very familiar with is Hank Thompson (“The Wild Side of Life“) and Asleep At The Wheel. A friend of mine and former bandmate of my dad’s, Phil Spaulding, played with both artists and is still going strong into his eighties. And now we have the Western Flyers playing their excellent brand of this great genre.
You’ll be amazed that three people can make this much music. Joey McKenzie is an excellent rhythm guitar player and fiddler who has won scores of fiddling competitions. In the past few years he’s been seen many times appearing with, and mentoring, the Quebe Sisters. McKenzie is joined by his Quebe Sisters’ bandmate, bassist Gavin Kelso, an excellent and energetic bassist and Katie Glassman, an award winning fiddler, two–time winner of the National Swing Fiddle Championship in Weiser, Idaho.
They kick off with a high speed Bob Wills’ 1942 classic, “You’re From Texas” that featured Leon McAuliffe on vocals. (A minor gripe about this CD is the lack of composer credits. This track was composed by Cindy Walker.) Kelso has lightning–fast hands as he rips the strings off his upright bass while Glassman provides the fiddle fills. You hear more of her fiddling as she plays a medley of tunes on the “Texas Fiddle Medley” track and an old–time number, “The Wild Dog,” described in “The Fiddle Handbook” as “… a playful number with alternating sections, either slow, lazy and carefree, or completely frantic …” “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” makes a good Western swing number (with Glassman singing lead) and is done here at high speed. Dating back to 1935 and a feature song in “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” it’s been recorded by a bevy of pops, jazz and blues singers but usually at a slower pace than this version.
When I was a kid we had C&W — Country & Western music. While the “western” part has mostly disappeared from what passes as country music these days, the band pays homage to it with a swinging version of “Along the Navajo Trail.” This was the title song in a Roy Rogers’ movie of the same name back in 1945 and has been recorded by artists as diverse as Dinah Shore and Sam Cooke. The Flyers’ version is an excellent slow–swing cover. Ray Price recorded some of my favorite music including “Heart Over Mind,” one of Mel Tillis’ many great compositions. The Flyers cover it here with McKenzie singing lead and they nail it.
Whether it’s “Old Fashioned Love” or “Tennessee Waltz” this band plays excellent music. If you like Western swing this needs to be in your collection.