Bringing fictional worlds to life is one thing that Michael Shaw has perfected, all thanks to his background. The singer used to work as a horseman and wilderness ranger in Western Montana, patrolling Glacier National Park with his two horses. What he didn’t know at the time was that his daily strolls would inspire his debut album, He Rode On.
Shaw worked with producer and guitarist Grant Siemens to achieve the perfect first album and asked about the recording process. He said, “I drove to Grant’s hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, and all the musicians gathered together in the same room and recorded live to tape, trying to capture the feel and warmth of my favorite albums from the ‘60s and ‘70s.” Interestingly, Shaw wrote all 10 songs for the album.
He Rode On begins with “Bad Honky Tonker” where Shaw steps into the cowboy persona he’s imagined in his head. This cowboy is a smooth-talker, good with the ladies and someone you shouldn’t mess with, talking himself up throughout the whole track. It’s exactly how one would picture a lead in an old Western film, allowing listeners to visualize Shaw’s character perfectly.
“Outlaw’s Refuge” comes next, written when Shaw was living on the Flathead Indian Reservation, making homemade wine, hunting and fishing all on his own. The fictional cowboy Shaw has created seems to tell us more about his life story, alluding to his late wife’s death. It’s simply a man trying to find his way again in life, learning life lessons along the way through vivid lyrical imagery.
“Billy” and “Cowboy Boots And A Little Country Dress” follow. “Billy” tells the story of two childhood best friends, ironically based on Shaw’s real-life friendships, while “Cowboy Boots And A Little Country Dress” brings folk-like instrumentation and yodeling back to the mainstream again. Both songs are definitely ones you could see yourself square dancing to, easily bringing out your inner cowboy or girl.
Another standout is “Stick A Fork In It” with Shaw’s cowboy being fed up with how their new lover is treating them. It’s upbeat and lighthearted even if it is a breakup song, but the ultimate kicker of a line, “I get more love from a walk-in freezer,” adds humor to a much-needed fictional situation.
“Like They Used To” is one of the most noteworthy tracks on the album, containing the upbeat tone that the rest of the album emits. A reflective track, Shaw’s character is comparing himself to the other cowboys in the fictional world he’s envisioned, feeling like he’s different from them in terms of morals and manners. Overall, it’s a song about wondering why people are always trying to be someone else in order to be successful, with greed always being at the forefront.
“Light Of The Moon” and “He Rode On” end the album as Shaw begins to tie up loose ends of his cowboy’s story. The first track details an encounter the cowboy has with an intimidating bar local, but later finds himself learning his backstory. “He Rode On” is about the cowboy running away from his problems that the tracks before it have revealed, leaving listeners wondering what the road lies ahead for him.
Overall, He Rode On is an impressive debut, integrating vivid storytelling and creative imagination that will easily captivate listeners. Even if you’re not a country music fan, this album and its tracks will pull at your heartstrings and inspire you to put on a cowboy hat of your own.