When I teach the American West, I always start the weeks on the American West as entertainment with “When the Work’s All Done This Fall,” the first cowboy song recorded by Carl T. Sprague. Appearing in 1925, it sold close to a million copies and remains a favorite old time western song.
I had always thought the poem on which the song was based reflected late nineteenth-century America, with its quick deaths, poverty, and sentimentality.
So imagine my surprise this summer, when I heard modern western songwriter Slaid Cleaves doing “Horses Quick as Dreams.” This seems almost to be an updated version of the classic song:
Is the song simply part of a musical tradition? Or is it a reflection of modern American culture?