There are no ghosts in the music of Riders in the Sky, except when they sing Vaughn Monroe's 1949 classic. Even when they sing songs from the Sons of the Pioneers, this western trio is not so much reviving as revitalizing a music that was as at home on the radio it was on the range. It's a wonderfully affable sound, chock full of romantic imagery and ethereal harmonies, three-part yodels and cornball humor.
At the Door last night, the Riders lit their electric campfire and spent the rest of the evening in the acoustic grace of Woody Paul's swinging fiddle, Ranger Doug's simple brush chords and Too Slim's thumping bunkhouse bass. Ranger Doug's supremely mellow baritone and good looks would have made him matinee idol in the early '40s, yet he sublimates himself to the Riders' collective energy. sublimates himself to the Riders' collective energy.
The remarkable thing about the Riders, aside from their genuinely wholesome approach to an overlooked musical tradition, is their ability to write new songs that seem mined from an old and worthy vein. "Cowboy Jubliee," "At the End of the Rainbow Trial," "How the Yodel Was Born" and "Riding Alone" are filled with genuine cowpoke lore and western mythology. Thanks to the Riders, western music is tall in the saddle again.