Reviews of the Tall Boots Project
Tall Boots is a collection of rare cowboy songs and tunes, the result of a 35-year investigation by Suze Spencer-but this was no normal research project. Members of The International Cowboys and The Sons Of The Pioneers were Marshall’s relatives and extended family, so research meant thinking back to her childhood.
‘Over Nevada’ is the very first song I remember hearing, at a favorite camp out near Lake Tahoe, she recollects. I tried to stay awake in my sleeping bag while the voice of my grandfather, great uncles and aunties filled the starry night air. Other times the research involved corresponding with Elizabeth McDonald, archivist of Bob Nolan’s works. Many of the songs originally written for western movies of the 1930s and 1940s never made it to the final film, so there were old movies to go through and lost film clips to find. Still other times, research meant taking a long walk and humming one of the tunes that she was attempting to piece together, until the words came back to her.
The music is bouncy and lonesome in turns, as you’d expect, and the harmony singing doesn’t get better than this. Marshall shares the vocals with quite a cast: Mike Dowling, Becky Kilgore, David Keenan, Scott Whitley, Riders in the Sky, The New Pioneers, and others. Of course, the music of the American West and American westerns was more than songs; instrumentals figured in as well. The Sons of the Pioneers fiddle player, Hugh Farr, set a high standard; he was equally adept at hot jazz and barn dance tunes. On Tall Boots, fiddlers Paul Elliott, James Mason, and Stacy Philips (who also turns in performances on resophonic and Hawaiian guitars) take turns in the Hugh Farr chair with stunning results.
Fiddler Magazine – January, 2007
What a wonderful recording! ‘Couverville’s Suze Marshall has co-produced a splendid CD package on which she plays and sings with a stellar stable of musicians including Rebecca Kilgore, Stacy Phillips, James Mason, Mike Dowling and many others. Suze’s family was mixed in with the Sons of the Pioneers and she was raised on her aunties’ and uncles’ music around the house. Many of these tunes and songs never made it into records or into the cowboy films for which they were composed and were nearly lost. It’s just a beautiful, sweet, sweet presentation true to the sounds and sensibilities of late ’30s and ’40s western cowboy music. I can’t get over how the fiddle tunes sound just like my collection of 1940s square dance 78s. And that Hi-wye-in’ steel guitar, O My.
Bill Martin Bubba Guitar Website – January, 2006
The Spencer Family may not be as well known to many folk music fans but most of us grew up watching the countless Republic Pictures cowboy films starring Roy Rogers and the other western stars. Suze Spencer Marshall grew up very close to the music featured in those films, as her relatives were members of The Sons Of The Pioneers and The International Cowboys. Tall Boots is a collection of 23 songs and tunes Suze heard while growing up in a family of exceptional musicians, singers and composers. To completely explain the premise of this remarkable recording, it would take much more space than allotted for this review. The essence of the story is: many Spencer-composed tunes ended up on the cutting room floor when the films were edited and were therefore lost. Suze, along with her crack band of acoustic musicians, revives these classics as well some of the fiddle tunes and various songs played around the house during her formative years.
The CD opens with “Rye Whiskey Waltz” an old traditional tune as played by Suze’s great-grandfather and his brother across one holler to another. The fiddling of Paul Elliott and James Mason is simply gorgeous. From this first tune it is obvious that something very special is about to unfold.
“Sierra Nevada” demonstrates Suze’s sweet and wonderful voice in duet with Melissa Marshall on a beautiful and lazy tune about the high mountains, complete with the yodeling of “Ranger” Douglas Green of Riders In The Sky. Suze’s grandfather, Tim Spencer is the composer of “Ridin’ On The Rocky Range” which features cowboy harmony and the fabulous steel guitar of former Texas Playboy Bobby Koefer.
This is just a small sampling of the extraordinary music and players contained on Tall Boots. Suze Spencer has produced and shared a classic collection of music very close to her heart.
Sing Out! Magazine, Volume 50 #2 – Summer 2006
Suze Spencer serves as co-producer and music director of Tall Boots, bringing together a cadre of Spencers and guest spots by Riders In The Sky and The New Pioneers. The songs, as the subtitle proclaims, are rarities, drawn from the oeuvres of cowpokes like Bob Nolan, Tim Spencer, and the old standby, “Traditional.” The large caste of musicians is closer to Western swing and Roy Rogers than the rustic bard who sang around the campfire, but Tall Boots nonetheless sounds more authentic than commercial. Nicely done.
Dirty Linen Magazine, June/July 2006
Anyone who goes on the archaeological dig for lost songs gets a lot of points just for preserving some of America’s heritage, but Suze Marshall has an out and out smash with Tall Boots. Subtitled “Rare Gems Of America’s Western Music Pioneers” and backed by a large cast of top PNW talent, this is a nonstop joy of faithfully rendered songs from the golden age of cowboy music. Marshall brings back the movie music from the B-Westerns, like the fantastic “Lonesome Cowboy Blues” and the even-more classic “Yippi-Yi Your Troubles Away.” There are several songs that were handed down to her by her parents, uncles, and grandparents, who were notable cowboy performers in the first half of the century, and several by Bob Nolan, a nearly forgotten Country music jack of all trades back before the war. Marshall has also retrieved several fiddle tunes that were collected from musicians out on the range in the early 20th century, all of them delightful, especially “Howlin’ Pup” and “Old Madeira Waltz.” The entire CD is a trove for scholars and jammers, and delightful listening for the whole family – my kids have been begging to play if over and over.
Victory Review, Seattle, Washington – April 2006
This CD is a delight – a perfect marriage between historical accuracy and contemporary talent. The instrumental skill is superb and the harmonies pleasing. The CD is never on long before toes are tapping or voices join in the singing. Because the overall mood is upbeat, the listener feels cheerful, too. Suze’s group has captured the verve and energy of the Sons of the Pioneers and no detail was overlooked. The icing on the cake is ‘Slumber Time on the Range,’ one of the many songs Bob Nolan wrote and Time lost. Tall Boots is the perfect gift, not only for fans of the original Sons of the Pioneers but for anyone who enjoys good music.
Elizabeth McDonald – Curator of the Bob Nolan Archives
The Southern Folklife Collection, University of North Carolina
“A treasury of all-but-forgotten gems, well researched and exquisitely performed. What a great album!”
Heritage Music Review, Seattle, WA – November 5, 2005
Suze Spencer has both musical and family roots in Western Music. In addition to this, she has a wonderful singing voice and a deep love for the history and tradition of Western, Western Swing and Old Timey Music. In this enjoyable new album, Suze uses her beautiful voice, guitar playing and her love for and background in this music to complete a rare and delightful album. She also has gathered many of the most talented names in these music genres to create Tall Boots and to help her complete this rare treasure of 23 musical gems totaling almost 70 minutes of music.
They include rare and gorgeous Sons Of The Pioneers Western classics such as When It’s Night Time In Nevada, Saddle Your Worries To The Wind, Sierra Nevada, Slumber Time On The Range, Lonesome Cowboy Blues and Suze’s vocal masterpiece on Over Nevada to just name a few. Western Swing is heard both instrumentally and vocally. Two of the true gems of the album are a Western Swing arrangement of a Fred Rose composition also from the Sons of the Pioneers, You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Gone and the Jack Rivers standard If You Would Only Be Mine. The instrumental highlights include Clowin’ The Fretts, El Cajon Stomp and Howlin’ Pup.
Mike Gross – WVOF-FM, Fairfield, CT
Swingin’ West , November 1, 2005
This CD should be a prime candidate for Album of the Year. Everything about it is first-rate, from the song selection to the musicianship, the engineering, fascinating liner notes and even the artwork!” (5 Grammy winners are among the performers) … This whole project is awesome! Don’t miss it! Highly recommended!
O. J. Sikes
The Western Way, Rope Burns and Western Clippings – October, 2005
I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all selections, as the musicianship is superb and the arrangements well thought out. The extensive work on the printed information is presented in a manner that sets the album in the “Must Have” category for a complete library of Western Music. Please give my complements to Suze Spencer for superb vocals and presentation of the stories that enhance the meaning of the songs. I hope the CD gets the critical recognition and financial rewards it certainly deserves.
Billy Beeman – 1998 WMA Hall of Fame Member
On this historical recording, Vancouverite, Suze Spencer has pulled together rare musical selections of the Spencer family, The International Cowboys and Sons Of The Pioneers. “Over 35 years ago, I began writing down what I remembered about each song, where it came from, who wrote it and then began my research,” said Suze. The liner notes are filled with extensive track notes, snippets of history, stories and images of vintage instruments and family treasures. Five Grammy Award winning musicians appear on the recording with her: “Ranger” Doug Green, Woody Paul, Too Slim (of Riders In The Sky), Mike Dowling, Stacy Phillips and “Texas Playboy” Bobby Koefer.
NW Woman’s Journal, Portland Vancouver Metro – March 16, 2006
Tall Boots deftly combines Suze’s deeply rooted musical past with a vibrancy and exuberance set squarely in the present. This excellent ride will cascade right out of your stereo speakers and spirit you away.
Nancy K. Dillon