Gene Autry

Gene Autry at the Melody Ranch

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Gene Autry is remembered as a movie-star cowboy, a singer of Western songs, and the person who made a huge hit out of "Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer." At the Melody Ranch captures a number of Autry's radio performances from the 1940s, including a long skit that recalls his accidental rise to fame. "The Gene Autry Story" covers his early years, from cowhand to telegraph operator to singing star. It's kind of funny to hear Autry's wholesome, aw shucks persona explaining how no one would really enjoy listening to him sing. Really? Well, comedian Will Rogers felt differently. He encouraged the singing cowboy to go public, and a year later Autry signed with the American Recording Company, and the rest is singing-cowboy history. Of course this all may seem a little hokey today, but so what? This is how it happened. The remainder of the album is comprised of classics like "I Hate to Say Goodbye to the Prairies" and "At Sundown." The purple prose of the lyrics takes a page from Zane Grey, painting an unabashedly romantic picture of doggies, blazing trails, and endless ranges. The tasteful arrangements of guitars, fiddles, and, occasionally, horns are low key and never get in the way of Autry's resonant, upbeat vocals. There's also some fine harmony from his cowboy buddies that conjures up nights spent beneath the lonesome stars. At the Melody Ranch is short -- 32 minutes -- but the material sounds great, and fans of Western music will not want to miss it.

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