20 Originals: The Early Years

20 Originals: The Early Years

by Chris LeDoux


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Chris LeDoux, Garth Brooks's favorite bronco-riding, singing cowboy, once had a flourishing little business selling his homemade recordings at the various rodeos in which he competed. Highlights from the scuffling days comprise the 20 tracks here, almost all of them centered on details of the modern-day cowboy's life and loves. Recorded on a sparse budget with a sturdy combo supplying lean, lively instrumental support (think post-honky-tonk, pre-countrypolitan mainstream country), these songs have an uncommon vitality that can only be attributed to LeDoux's intimate connection to the rodeo life -- this is the sound of a man who loves his work, whether it be rodeoing or documenting its world in song. A good woman's love for a rodeo man is cause for celebration in "Fine as Wine," a sturdy bit of contemporary country with a Bakersfield edge. Heck, he even stirs up a lively two-step to extol the virtues of a brand of snuff in "Copenhagen." Ever the realist, though, LeDoux spends ample time on the dark side. With a harmonica blowing low and mean and the band surging angrily behind him in "I've Got to Be a Rodeo Man," LeDoux catalogues the long, hard climb to respectability ("I ain't really a bum," he sings) from the lowest rungs of the rodeo milieu, and in the bluesy "Freedom Ain't Free" he issues cautionary advice that life on the top rung brings pain that can't be salved by silver and gold. Despite being jaunty and jubilant in tone, "It Ain't the Years, It's the Miles" explains the exhausting, near-debilitating physical toll the circuit takes on a body. Rodeoing is an insular environment, but LeDoux limns its nuances in ways that are always entertaining, often enlightening, and occasionally moving.

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