Don McLean first expressed his interest in cowboys when he put his composition "Bronco Bill's Lament," about a disgruntled Hollywood cowboy, on his self-titled third album in 1972. Six years later, at the wrap party for his Chain Lightning LP, he joined with a studio full of drunken musicians to cut a lively version of Roy Rogers' "My Saddle Pal and I" that sat unreleased for a quarter-century until he put together this album, the third release on his own Don McLean Records label (following Don McLean Sings Marty Robbins and the live disc Starry Starry Night). Unlike "Bronco Bill's Lament," The Western Album takes a largely positive view of cowboys, Hollywood and otherwise, but by no means a reverent one. McLean doesn't care whether the songs come from Hollywood songwriters like Frank Loesser and Johnny Mercer or from "public domain," and while he and his fellow musicians can handle traditional arrangements, they also take some liberties. The medley of "Tulsa Time" and "Deep in the Heart of Texas," for example, is done as a rock & roll performance. "I'm an Old Cowhand," Mercer's humorous song about a phony cowboy, comes off as an earnest family singalong. McLean includes his own composition, "Lyndon Has a Bear Hug on Dallas," a tribute to the Dallas beltway named after Lyndon Johnson, as well as Tom Lehrer's satiric ode to nuclear testing in the West, "The Wild West Is Where I Wanna Be." McLean turns serious, and strips the arrangement down to his own guitar, for "Sioux Indians," an account of a bloody encounter between cowboys and Indians. So, The Western Album is a carefully considered and quite varied collection of music associated with cowboys, not just a genre exercise.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann