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Wild West recordings

Wild West recordings — The romantics songs of old-time cowboys and the myths of Native American tribes live on in these records

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Ready for something beyond Bart Simpson and the Ninja Turtles? Maybe it’s time to rediscover cowboys and Native Americans, or as I used to call them, cowboys and Indians. Things have improved since I was a kid in the ’50s; in today’s song and story recordings nobody shoots anybody or scalps anybody or talks in demeaning monosyllables. Instead the emphasis is on music, folklore, humor, and history. Intended for the ear and not the eye, these songs and stories may be enjoyed pretty much as they were by their original listeners. And now, it’s roundup time.

Iroquois Stories
Stories Joe Bruchac
The smell of wood smoke, a sense of community, the Iroquois longhouse in winter. ”It was a time when the storytellers would once again tell the tales of wonder,” says Joe Bruchac (whose ancestors were Iroquois), setting the scene for the tales he is about to tell, of animals wily and foolish (on side one) and women courageous (on side two). The animal fables, engaging as Aesop’s, explain how the buzzard got his ill-fitting suit of feathers and why the raccoon washes his food. Best of all is ”Turtle’s Race With Bear,” a tortoise-and-hare story with a clever surprise ending. The legends about women — including the creation of the earth by a woman who fell from the sky — also reveal much about Iroquois ways. A

Saddle Pals
Riders in the Sky
Nobody does the singing-cowboy act better than Grand Ole Opry regulars Riders in the Sky, who this fall are getting their own Saturday morning TV show on CBS. Okay, virtually no one except Riders in the Sky does the singing-cowboy bit anymore, but without Saddle Pals how would our kids learn songs like ”The Old Chisholm Trail,” ”Get Along Little Dogies,” and ”Sweet Betsy From Pike”? Besides emulating Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers, the Riders — Ranger Doug, Too Slim, and Woody Paul — are ace musicians (on banjo, fiddle, guitar, and bass) and harmonize exquisitely. Ranger Doug is a knockout yodeler and, like all your better cowpoke singers, the Riders even have an ersatz coot for a sidekick. He’s called Side Meat. Fun? Yer darned tootin’. A

Changes, Native American Flute Music
R. Carlos Nakai
Though not exclusively aimed at kids, there’s nothing in Nakai’s Native American flute music to preclude children from enjoying it along with adults. Older ones can discover the recorder — like instrument’s contemplative qualities as Nakai plays his own and traditional Zuni, Lakota, and Blood tribal melodies; the very young (and their parents) may appreciate these aural earth tones as lullabies. They say bluegrass embodies a high, lonesome sound, but compared with the Native American flute, bluegrass is rush-hour traffic. Changes is so open and airy that it seems stifling to listen to it with earphones. Let it breathe. B

A Heart Full of Turquoise
Joe Hayes
Joe Hayes, who also tells Anglo and Hispanic stories of the Southwest, turns to Pueblo Indian folklore on this ample (70 minute) tape. When I played it, ”The Singing Wagon,” about Black Beetle Oldman (that’s an elderly insect) and his squeaky handcart, had a 6-year-old, a 9-year-old, and two otherwise mature adults creaking, ”Ai-ee, ai-ee, ai-ee, Tsee-nay, tsee-nay, tsee-nay” along with Hayes. A story about how the prairie dogs used stinkbugs to chase rain clouds away had us chanting, ”It…smelled…TERRRRible.” A few stories get tedious, but when Hayes is good he’s very, very good. A-

The Feather Moon, American Indian Star Tales
Lynn Moroney
One magical night the Great Spirit let the animals wander into the sky, there to place jagged stones that would become stars. So begins Lynn Moroney’s lovely collection of sky myths from the Cheyenne, Seminole, Shawnee, and other tribes. Celestial phenomena explained include meteors, constellations, and eclipses of the day star (that’s right, the sun.) Feather Moon is further evidence that myths handed down by the tribes that roamed North America and told stories about Coyote the Trickster are the equal of myths handed down by the tribes that roamed the Balkan peninsula and told stories about Zeus and Apollo. B+