Additional guest artists: Male Chorus Of The United States Air Force Singing Sergeants with Lt. Col. James M. Bankhead, Director.
Additional personnel: Denny Jones (fiddle), Rosilind Ilet (piano).
Recorded in Music Hall, Cincinnati, Ohio on April 9, 1989; Suma Recording Studios, Plainsville, Ohio on August 16, 1989; and Dry Park, Kaibab National Forest, Arizona on August 23, 1989.
Erich Kunzel's first Western album, Round Up, was so beloved by audiophiles and cowboy fans that Telarc rustled up this sequel two years later, recording the music quickly in one day. Like most sequels, this one (subtitled "Round-Up 2") isn't quite as wonderful; the pickings from the cinema are slimmer and the Cincinnati Pops' performances fall just a bit short on the pizazz scale. Part of the latter is due to the generally more subdued nature of the material -- with spirited exceptions like Jerry Fielding's Mexican guaracha-flavored theme from The Wild Bunch -- but others just could use more fire. The Air Force Singing Sergeants are featured most effectively in a surprisingly moody, haunting medley of cowboy songs arranged very creatively by Chris Brubeck. Whereas Round Up had Frankie Laine, Happy Trails gives you Sherrill Milnes, whose operatic baritone is a bit staid for the likes of "Ghost Riders in the Sky," "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," and especially the whip-cracking "Mule Train" (which goes limp). Yet, there are some endearingly authentic touches that Happy Trails' predecessor did not have -- like Gene Autry, who hadn't recorded anything in decades yet was persuaded to recite his "The Cowboy Code" from the 1930s, whose compassionate wisdom on how to live one's life is totally at odds with today's aggressive cowboy stereotype. Or Roy Rogers, who in his first encounter ever with a symphony orchestra, warbles through "Happy Trails to You" like an aging cowboy -- a document of overpowering nostalgia. And in true Telarc fashion, there are three sound-effects tracks to give the package a bit of atmosphere -- and sound buffs something to damage their ears with. ~ Richard S. Ginell