Ernie Sites subtitles Great American Hero "a tribute," and if you're in doubt about who he wants to pay tribute to, you need only look at the song titles, five of which feature the word "cowboy." Sites mixes songs (many of them written by others) with his own poems, which not only celebrate the cowboy life but also warn ominously about what he sees as the passing of that life. He fires an opening salvo with the concluding lines of the album's opening track, "Rodeo Cowboy," when he suddenly declares, "And in spite of what those activists have said/The heck with savin' spotted owls/Let's save some cowboys instead!" Even more critical is the caustic poem "New West Coming," in which Sites complains of "the pretty people [who] started re-arranging our West." "It's a battle to be fought," he declares, asking, "Are you going to stand for unproductive changes?," before concluding that the listener will have to decide on "which side of the fence will you be found?" It is unfortunate that he mis-identifies the enemy; surely environmentalists seeking to preserve the ecology of the West have common cause with the cowboys he praises, and both have a foe in the corporate interests seeking to clear-cut, strip-mine, and otherwise suck the natural resources out of the West. But he offers no lines of cowboy poetry about the greed of lumber and oil companies who are really the ones out to cover his beloved plains with asphalt. Maybe if cowboys cared a little more about saving spotted owls, they might save themselves as well. When Sites sticks to songs about the Old West, he is on firm ground, but his tribute is marred by a misguided political element that many otherwise sympathetic listeners may find hectoring and ill-informed.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann