Reviews

Thought you might want to read what some of the critics are sayin'.

Review: Unhitched
Cowboy Envy: Sweet Harmony
Atlanta's western trio sings happy trails to you
Scott Freeman
Creative Loafing, 7/30/2008

Access Atlanta Live Music Picks
CD Release Party Announcement
By Shane Harrison

Review: Cowboy Envy having fun but 'way serious' about band
By Holly Crenshaw

Review: Real Cowboy Girl
by Niki Viki Music

Review: Wagons Ho!
AMG EXPERT REVIEW


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Cowboy Envy: Sweet Harmony
Atlanta's western trio sings happy trails to you
Scott Freeman
Creative Loafing, 7/30/2008

Cowboy Envy has always been about a wink and nod. The wink is three women dressed up as cowpokes who sing old-fashioned Western songs; the nod is their rich three-part harmonies that fuel new life into a fading genre of music.

"It's hard to find Western music these days," says lead singer Berné Poliakoff, known as "Frenchy" in her Cowboy Envy persona. "And that's a shame because it's great music. We all have these songs in our subconscious."

The new Cowboy Envy CD, Unhitched, illustrates the dichotomy between the inside joke and the strength of the band's musical chops. At one point on a song called "Vim, Vit and Vigor," Frenchy is chastised by her two bandmates for spending too much time messing with her hair. Then, a few songs later, a lonesome harmonica opens a track and the three voices meld for an evocative take on the old cowboy standard, "Oh, Bury Me Not On The Lone Prairie."

That playful seriousness has won Cowboy Envy a wide range of admirers, including Douglas "Ranger Doug" Green, leader of the pre-eminent Western band Riders in the Sky. "It is an act of art to balance irony, pure silliness and contemporary sensibility with deep love and obvious respect for tradition," Green has said of Cowboy Envy. "They are the freshest thing going in Western music today."

The band was the brainchild of DeDe Vogt (aka "Too Short"), one of the founding figures of the Atlanta folk music scene. Vogt first came to prominence as a vocalist and bass player for the Scallion Sisters, a local mainstay in the mid-'80s.

"She's really the godmother of the folk scene in Atlanta," says Michelle Malone, who snuck into local clubs as a teenager to hear the Scallion Sisters. "They had tight three-part harmonies. They were great role models for me as a young girl wanting to play music. And they made acoustic music seem cool. I know Dede influenced the Indigo Girls as well, and no telling how many other Atlanta acoustic musicians."

The Scallion Sisters eventually morphed into a rock band called Paper Dolls; the group released an album, but broke up as the '80s came to a close. Vogt played with the Indigo Girls for a time, then released a solo album. But she also wanted to start another band that featured tight harmonies.

Vogt had seen Riders in the Sky perform, and harbored a secret desire to start a cowgirl band. In 1993, she contacted Poliakoff – who was singing in a jazz duo – and asked if she'd like to be in a Western group. "She wanted us to be called the Cows," Poliakoff says. "I didn't want to be referred to as a cow. So she thought about it and came up with Cowboy Envy."

When guitarist Kathleen "Buffalo K" Hatfield signed up, the lineup was complete, and they quickly discovered the three separate voices formed a perfect blend. Hatfield sang in the mid-range, Poliakoff was a soprano and Vogt sang with a deeper voice. "We were over at DeDe's house and I think the first thing we sang was 'Happy Trails,'" Poliakoff says. "And it just clicked. We almost wanted to stop so we could listen."

From the start, the band members harbored no illusion of getting signed to a major label or shooting for stardom. "And we were fine with that," Vogt says. "We wanted to do something musically sound, and something to put the fun back in. We wanted something different, something showy and entertaining."

The novelty of Cowboy Envy quickly gained them an audience. The group has opened for Riders in the Sky, performed twice at the Kennedy Center and released two CDs.

The original trio was augmented five years ago with the addition of "Ropin'" Rodger French on accordion. French, however, moved to Ghana in 2006 and took some of the group's momentum with him. "We lost some wind after Roger left," Vogt says. "We stopped working as much. Having him around was a great energy boost."

French recorded his accordion parts for the new album when he was home over the Christmas holiday; he is flying in from Africa to perform at Sunday's CD-release party at Eddie's Attic.

Unhitched is Cowboy Envy's first album since 2000. There's a spring tour for the West already on the books, and the group plans to step up its performance schedule now that there's a new record. "We're hoping we can generate that energy again," Vogt says. "We hope to have some revitalization going on."

When Vogt put Cowboy Envy together, none of them anticipated the group that would be around for the next 15 years. "Fifteen years? Three women?" Vogt says with a hearty laugh. "We all have good senses of humor, and we seem to be able to laugh our way through things. We all kind of found a spot that was comfortable.

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Access Atlanta Live Music Picks
By Shane Harrison

GIT ALONG: The campy 'n' western trio of Frenchy, Too Short and Buffalo K — aka Berné Poliakoff, DeDe Vogt and Kathleen Hatfield — are back with new CD "Unhitched", and they'll be whooping it up at their home away from home, Eddie's Attic, to celebrate the occasion. The three singer-songwriters have been doing their entertaining shtick for nigh on 15 years now, and we hope there'll be many more to come.

Cowboy Envy having fun but 'way serious' about band
By Holly Crenshaw
STAFF WRITER
Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Like an old cowboy movie soundtrack, Cowboy Envy's music sways with the smooth, easy feel of three-part harmonies and a distinctively retro Western sensibility.

But the band's three musicians say despite their relaxed, good-natured shows, there's a lot of hard work that goes into capturing the precise vocal blends first popularIzed by cowboy bands in the '3Os and '40s.

"The three of us are having so much fun with this band," says Dede Vogt, who plays bass, mandolin, harmonica and sings with the group. "But we're way serious about it, too."

Garbed in Western wear with their hobbyhorse sidekicks in tow - Vogt, guitarist/vocalist Kathleen Hatfield and vocalist Berné Poliakoff run through songs by artists like Patsy Montana, The Sons of the Pioneers and Riders in the Sky as if they'd been singing them together for years.

In fact, the band was formed when the three musicians - all well-established local performers - decided it would be fun to join forces and harmonize on classic cowboy tunes like "Cool Water" and "Tumbling Tumbleweeds."

"People of our generation who have kids tell us they want their children to hear this kind of music because that's what they heard when they were little," Hatfield says. "And it seems to be so evocative - there's something about this music that brings back childhood associations and memories," she adds. "Before you know it, people will start talking about their first holster or cowboy hat or BB gun, or how they used to watch Roy Rogers and Dale Evans on TV."

Reprinted with permission of Creative Loafing
Record Review by Gregory Nicoll

COWBOY ENVY
Real Cowboy Girl
Niki Viki Music

As proud owner of a souvenir jacket from The Rifleman, I confess to more than a little "cowboy envy" myself; and I'll also admit that my record collection is heavier on Frankie Laine and Tex Ritter than Elvis or the Beatles. Raised in an era when Matt Dillon was a pistol-packer not a brat-packer, I grew up loving songs about sagebrush and six-guns. This musical genre falls into three distinct subcategories. First, there are Actual Frontier Ditties, most of them rewritten renditions of Irish folk ballads and old sea chanteys. You don't find many of those on Real Cowboy Girl, the new CD by the all-female Atlanta trio Cowboy Envy, but you will discover a heapin' helping from the second subcategory: Rodeo & Chuck Wagon Tunes from the Singing Cowboy Era.

Wrapping their deliciously smooth Andrews Sisters-style harmonies around Gene Autry's "Back in the Saddle Again," Cowboy Envy provide the next best thing to the l9th century. (Autry may have been a cheeseball, but unlike most boob tube buckaroos, at least he wrote of frontier hand-guns with the proper caliber of .44-40, not the military .45!) "Real Cowboy Girl" is even better suited to this estrogenic ensemble - it's a gen-u-ine '30s tune in which a woman fantasizes about men's gear ("I want to wear a ten-gallon hat, And a belt that is four inches wide"). This might provide the trio a perfect theme song if their own "Cowboy Envy" (which lead singer "Frenchy" Poliakoff wrote in perfect mimicry of the style, complete with yodels) didn't already fill the bill.

Another original, "Born To Be Branded," is composed from the cow's point of view and packs a feminist punch ("At the end of a fiery stick... a cow has no say!"); but "Cool Water" showcases the trio's beautiful ensemble singing and backup harmonies, underscored by instrumentation that's tastefully understated (the sole exception being DeDe "Too Short" Vogt's electric bass, which kicks like a loaded Colt).

There are a few misfires on the disc - "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" is pretty instead of gritty, and Cole Porter's "Don't Fence Me In" is overly familiar (even Clint Eastwood recorded it) - but "Buffalo K" Hatfield's solo reading of "Home on the Range" is truly stunning, no matter how well-trampled its lyric path.

The third and final subcategory of cattle-trail tunes is the Absurd Macho Movie Theme, and the Envy bunch delivers the great grandma of them all: "High Ridin' Woman. Often incorrectly attributed to the Sons of the Pioneers (as it is here, in David Chamberlain's otherwise excellent liner notes), this male-chauvinist antique was actually written by film composer Harry Sukinan for the 1957 CinemaScope bulletfest Forty Guns, the most bizarre gender-switched western of its decade (yup, even more bent than Johnny Guitar) in which a black-clad Barbara Stanwyck kept her personal posse of pistoleros in line with the lash of her bullwhip. When the three throats of Cowboy Envy wrap their heavenly harmonies around this number ("She commands and men obey/They're just putty in her hands so they say"), the threesome burns hot as branding irons.

Wagons Ho!
AMG EXPERT REVIEW

CowbovEnvy is at it again riding the musical range and tipping their 24-gallon hats to the cowboy icons of old. Berné Poliakoff, DeDeVogt, and Kathleen Hatfield, known respectively as Frenchy, TooShort, and Buffalo K, are CowboyEnvy, and lest you think it's all in good fun, it is. But these gals can sing (even yodel), and their original compositions sidle right up next to traditional tunes like good cowhands should. The lovely melody of "Sunrise on the Plains" was penned by Buffalo K, but could just as well have come from Gene Autry. Their love and reverence for this genre is unmistakable, as evidenced in the spot-on harmonies of the classic "Red River Valley," but never fear, their humor comes sneaking through on songs like "Prairie Rose" and "Round up Time." And Frenchy's "I Left His Heart (In San Francisco)" is self-proclaimed as "the only known cowboy tribute to TonyBennett." Fair enough. Sometimes you can judge a CD by its cover. In the case of Wagons Ho!, what you see is exactly what you get. Not many folks these days sing of coyotes, plains, wagons, and sage. Maybe they should. Harking back to the simplicity and innocence of a time long lost, this record is a rare delight. -Kelly McCartney


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