More than any of his nine prior albums, Dave Stamey’s latest is his most personal.
“It’s the best thing I’ve done,” says the acclaimed Western musician. “It’s more about my experiences in the ranching world and my history.”
He paints a vivid portrait of his rancher father, Bruce Stamey, in the title track. The struggles and hopes of working the old home place in Montana are deeply felt: “There’s an old gravel road, following’ the section line, out where lives are held together, with sweat and baling twine/ Where you rattle your bones on a tractor, over 30 years old, and there’s a mortgage and kids to be fed, out on Twelve Mile Road.”
This, the album’s emotional centerpiece, came late in the recording process and almost didn’t make the final cut.
“I finished that song in the middle of recording, brought it into the studio, and taught it to the musicians,” says Stamey. “We got it on the third take, which is a testament to the quality of the pickers that I had.” He credits lead guitar player Dorain Michael for assembling a crack team of musicians. Annie Lyons also gets major kudos for her pitch-perfect harmony singing.
The rest of the album’s 12 tracks seldom stray from the land and its hardy Westerners (and critters). “Song for Jake” commemorates one of Stamey’s mentors, Jake Copass, who died in 2006 at age 86. “Never Gonna Rain” bemoans the heartbreak of drought, “Blackjack Was a Mule” imagines the life of an ore-cart mule in the mines of Bodie, Calif. Though “Wild Sierra” was written more than 30 years ago, it’s dear to Stamey’s heart for being the first song he ever felt satisfied with to keep as a songwriter.
But in an album filled with highlights, “Sweetgrass County Line” stands out as the favorite. Stamey wrote it at a friend’s Montana ranch during a particularly green year and says the sentiment is a metaphor for how he feels about the nation. He sings: “This country is a friend of mine/ Its voice is a voice that I hear/ And when time leaves me behind/ I won’t mind if it leaves me right here.”
Stamey dedicated the CD to his father, “for trying so hard out there on Twelve Mile Road.” In fact, father and son returned to the old homestead a few years ago. Their 100-acre ranch had been divided and sold in small parcels, and the gravel lane had been paved over and signed sometime in the intervening 40 years. Usually a stoic man, the elder Stamey became emotional as he surveyed the land he’d once put so much muscle and sweat into.
“It got to him, and he was upset,” says Stamey. “He said, ‘Look what they did to my ranch!’” It’s a sentiment heard all too often in the modern West. Hats off to artists like Stamey who help keep the traditional cowboy lifestyle alive.
HorseCamp Music, davestamey.com