The Sons of the Pioneers went through so many different lineups over the decades -- especially from the end of the 1950s onward -- that it was often difficult to know precisely who was singing on various LPs drawn from different parts of their history. Cool Water, however, was the group's first stereo release, cut in June of 1959 as one of RCA-Victor's Living Stereo series, which encompassed artists ranging from Henry Mancini to Sam Cooke. The original release, issued at the height of the stereophile boom of the late 1950s, was a vivid display of close, intimate presence and discreet channel separation -- what it lacked was the stripped-down authenticity of the original Sons of the Pioneers' sides from the 1930s. Purists may be put off by the accompaniment, which includes strings, as well as the definite sense of drama and sophistication that has gone into sides such as "Twilight on the Trail." On the other hand, some of the music here, such as Tim Spencer's arrangement of "Red River Valley," or the western pop standards "Wagon Wheels" and Stan Jones' "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky," can get away with the restrained presence of flutes and French horn, and even strings in the latter case; and "Way Out There" as done here, with an up-tempo beat (a little too up-tempo, actually) and electric guitar, and the group's singing mixed fairly far back but sounding superb, holds up as a new, fresh approach to the song. Other songs, however, lack the underlying authenticity of the group's original sound. It's also interesting to note the different ways in which this material has been reissued -- in Germany, it's been put out intact as an audiophile CD, while in the United States the album was once reduced to less than half its original length and sub-licensed to a budget label with the same cover, and more recently has turned up from BMG/RCA as two separate half-length CDs that claim audiophile remastering.
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AllMusic Review by Bruce Eder