Carol Noonan was probably wise to follow her last album, Self Titled, with a change of pace. Although Self Titled marked a return to action for her after a temporary retirement that followed the completion of her contract with Rounder's Philo imprint, it was a remarkably downcast collection, the sort of album that may serve as a catharsis for the artist, but that sounds to her listeners like a bitter final statement. In fact, Self Titled, which Noonan released herself, appropriately garnered positive reviews and sold well (in the thousands) for a release distributed only through the Internet, justifying the early issuance of a follow-up that the songwriter may not have been ready to provide, given the emotional deck-clearing that Self Titled represented. So, Big Iron is a seemingly unlikely collection of covers of songs of the Old West, many of them from Noonan's childhood, such as Marty Robbins' title song and "Streets of Laredo." Gunfighters stride dusty streets in these songs, with their quick-drawing abilities defining the difference between good and evil. Noonan is a New Englander who lives on a farm, so she has a theoretical, but necessarily distant, relationship to the material. Maine is a far cry from the Red River Valley and the Shenandoah, but she adapts the songs to her chaste folk-rock style, and even contributes a couple of her own gunslinging originals. (Recording in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, she added an old song of hers, "Unknown Thing," to the end of the album. Consistent with the tone of Self Titled, it reflects the sense of loss felt by many.) This is not exactly the sort of album you'd expect given Noonan's track record, but that's a part of its charm. It may make you reconsider these old Western classics.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann