Album Review – Wylie & The Wild West’s “Bunchgrass”
Sometimes you stumble upon a great song, album, or artist, and boom, you have some tasty musical morsel to enjoy henceforth. Or sometimes you fall so far down a musical rabbit hole, an entire new world of music unfolds right there in front of you, with decades of material to go back and listen through, and a whole career’s worth of catching up to do. This is the experience of delving into the life and career of Montana’s Wylie Gustafson and his band Wylie & The Wild West.
Maybe you recognize one or both of these names, or more likely you don’t. You certainly have heard Wylie Gustafson before though. Among other famous exploits, he was the guy that sang the ubiquitous yodeling “Yahoooo!” line for the online service that was ever-present in society for the better part of a decade. He’s also appeared as a guest of the Grand Ole Opry some 50 times among other notable exploits.
But yodeling cowboys from Montana aren’t exactly the stuff of popular culture fame, or even of notoriety in today’s country music diet. Yet with the way Western music, cowboys, and authenticity are making their way back in country music diet through things like the Yellowstone series and Colter Wall’s curious popularity, Wylie & The Wild West are ripe for rediscovery.
The new album Bunchgrass is as good of a starting point as any. Don’t go assuming this is some Western take on bluegrass from the title. Wylie is likely referring to the tufts of tussock grass that grow out of the Western prairie as opposed to making a pun. What you do get on the record is this artist’s signature mix of cowboy poetry and yodeling, songs of the Western puncher, and straight up classic country.
Brilliantly composed with minimalist instrumentation that carefully chooses each tasty note and the exact right tone and instrument to perform it with, the wide open space is respected on Bunchgrass just like it is in the West. With the wide variety of styles that Wylie works in, you may find the selections on this album hit or miss. But the ones that hit will hit you hard. Perhaps the best place to start is with the honky tonk tracks: the punchy and principled “Straight Up Country Music” that veers into the protest realm, and the boot-stomping “Birch Creek.”
For those looking for more Western flavor, try Wylie Gustafson originals “Cowboy Soliloquy” or “Hiline Waltz.” There are a couple of quality cover songs that made the cut too, including Gordon Lightfoot’s “Ribbon of Darkness,” and John Hartford’s “In Tall Buildings.” But no matter what style Wylie’s singing in or who wrote the song, it’s his lived-in barrel-chested Western baritone that really sells you on whatever it is.
Following the Western music adage that to sing it, you first have to live it, Wylie Gustafson puts the real world experience of working his family’s 4th generation Cross Three Quarter Horse Ranch outside of Conrad, Montana into his music. When he’s not writing or playing, Wylie’s raising cow horses. He grew up as a team roper, and was a Top 10 NCHA Western National Finals competitor in 2005 and 2008. His dad R.W. “Rib” Gustafson was also a cowboy singer, rancher, veterinarian, and writer of Western experiences. Few have as storied of a resume to sing cowboy music as Wylie.
This all comes into play when Gustafson sings about horses and Western landscapes, but even when he chooses to sing something completely out of this wheelhouse like the ballad “Young and Beautiful” once made big by Elvis, Gustafson really exposes himself as a generational singer that can perform just about anything, and does.
The legacy of Wylie Gustafson and his band Wylie & The Wild West stretches over three decades into the past, and includes some quarter of a hundred albums. Since he’s always had to balance his musical pursuits with his obligations back in Montana, it’s been difficult for Wylie and his band’s legacy to punch through to a wider audience, even though he’s enjoyed some glimmers of fame, and support from festivals over the years who recognize him as the real deal.
But with the way Western music is rising in popularity, it seems about time that Wylie and the Wild West benefit from a retrospective assessment. Though there are plenty of albums in the catalog to choose from, and this one does have some soft spots, Bunchgrass is good of a place to start with that reassessment, and fills the heart with the wholesomeness of the Cowboy and Western experience.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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Purchase from Wylie & The Wild West
December 27, 2022 @ 10:17 am
Anxus to see thoughts about this. The Western Music DJs are excited
December 27, 2022 @ 10:19 am
oh man YEAH! his music is so so so great. Many of the Western music greats are solo acoustic or otherwise stripped down productions on some albums. He has a full band honky tonk sound and lyrics about real-world, not stereotypically honky tonk things, which is fantastic. Plus there’s a baritone guitar on some of it for the full twong sound. Please go check out his back catalog.
December 27, 2022 @ 10:26 am
Alright! Thank you for writing this. I have been listening to him for years and love seeing him pop up in all these different places. I actually named the horse I bred after a horse of his that he wrote a song about. Got to love country music and all its facets.
December 28, 2022 @ 7:25 am
Enjoy his music and yodeling, and haven’t seen him for a long time. He came to Elko where I saw and met him.
December 27, 2022 @ 10:35 am
I first learned about Wylie years ago when I saw a video of his cover of “Girl on the Billboard”. I assumed he was a retro country artist in the vein of BR5-49, Junior Brown, and Red Meat, and I guess to some extent he was. It was only years later that I learned he was a primarily a western artist. I particularly like his cover of Tom russel’s “Bucking Horse Moon.”
December 27, 2022 @ 1:28 pm
Lol “wholesomeness of the cowboy and Western experience”! I guess there is some wholesome western music, but there is a whole lot that is most certainly not! In fact probably most.
December 27, 2022 @ 3:05 pm
I was wondering about him the other day when i heard his “Ugly Girl Blues” duet with Merle Haggard. Glad to see he is still producing music. Will check it out.
December 27, 2022 @ 3:17 pm
This is why I love SCM, artists like this I would never otherwise have heard of getting introduced to a new audience. Was just looking him up on itunes, and he has some interesting covers of “I Knew The Bride (When She Used To Rock & Roll) and “What’s So Funny Bout Peace Love & Understanding”. Will definitely give a listen! Good stuff!
December 27, 2022 @ 5:29 pm
I was fortunate to discover Wylie 25 years ago when a DJ at our local country dance hall (in New Jersey, of all places) had Wylie’s “Black Boots and Blue Jeans” as one of the standard shuffle numbers we heard each week. Since then, I’ve loved almost everything he’s done. “Yodeling Fool” and “Doggone Cowboy” (among others) are on my high-rotation playlist.
December 27, 2022 @ 7:15 pm
A few years back I picked up one of his CDs on a whim, and it is great. Nice to see him get some recognition on here. The Cowboy side of Country Music is probably my favorite subgenre, as I love Western History.
December 28, 2022 @ 7:15 am
Buck Up and Huck It https://youtu.be/_DRsNt3ia3A
They put on a good show!
December 28, 2022 @ 10:01 am
Thanks for sharing Trigger! Really great songs! I liked this album, didn’t know the band.
December 28, 2022 @ 6:08 pm
Not sure you understand what *western* music is.
December 28, 2022 @ 6:13 pm
Okay? Are you disputing that Wylie Gustafson is a Western artist?
Jessie With The Long Hair
December 28, 2022 @ 7:22 pm
He was a regular on Ronnie Mack’s Barndance at The Palamino in North Hollywood back in the early 90s. He was one of the main L.A. country music acts, post-Dwight Yoakam and Desert Rose Band success, along with Boy Howdy, Rosie Flores, George Highfill, Karen Tobin, Jim Lauderdale, Florida Slim, Dale Watson, and Rick Vincent.
December 28, 2022 @ 9:52 pm
Trigger – No, sorry, I have no idea why my reply didn’t work correctly, but my reply was intended to be to Ian’s comment posted 12/27/22 @ 1:28 pm, about his opinion that western music is somehow mostly “unwholesome” (see below):
“Lol ‘wholesomeness of the cowboy and Western experience’! **I guess there is some wholesome western music, but there is a whole lot that is most certainly not!** In fact probably most.”
I have been listening to and appreciating Wylie’s music for over two decades, and he is most certainly a Western artist – one of the most bona fide Western artists in the business. And, to clarify further, the Western music genre and its artists are most certainly not “unwholesome” in any way, shape, or form.
December 28, 2022 @ 11:02 pm
Ah! No worries.
I agree on all points.
December 28, 2022 @ 11:48 pm
I’ve been a fan of Wylie since the late 90’s and enjoyed him when he would perform at the Santa Clarita Cowboy Poetry and Music Festival when it was still being held at Gene Autry’s old Melody Ranch Studio property (which was used for HBO’s Deadwood and Westworld shows among others). I always enjoyed chatting with Wylie after his sets as he is just a cool dude (pun intended).
The one trail that Wylie probably wished he hadn’t ridden down was when he married a gal from a ranching and farming family in Dusty, Washington where he would raise and train the roping horses and practice for the competitions. While they were married he sued Yahoo for royalties on their commercials and won a big settlement which he used to build an enclosed regulation style rodeo area to practice in year around. Unfortunately not long after it was completed his wife divorced him and kept their ranch property along with the rodeo arena. Wylie sadly had become a living example of Jerry Reed’s hit song “She Got The Goldmine and I Got The Shaft”. Sometimes pardner it’s best just to move along on down the trail….
As an aside my favorite current cowboy/western singer is Dave Stamey who is sadly only known by attendees at cowboy festivals across the country and die hard fans of traditional cowboy and western music. His songs “Tonopah” and “Sharon Littlehawk” give me goosebumps every time I listen and his “”Vaquero Song” has been recorded by an ever growing list of artists. Dave is top shelf and the real deal and is one heck of a songwriter.
December 29, 2022 @ 7:05 am
Wylie is just the best! Enough said.
David: The Duke of Everything
December 29, 2022 @ 3:44 pm
Hadn’t heard of him til I read the new music list and listened to straight up country music. So I listened to this. My take is it’s ok. Straight up and birch creek are the stand outs to me. Dry land farm is great as well. I also like the last song where he yodels, hillline waltz I think. Some other songs seem good, I just don’t think he has the voice to carry them but maybe just me. Still overall, worthy of a listen.