(Bruce Anfinson, 2018)
Bruce Anfinson puts the “treasure” in The Treasure State. Since the 1970s, he has been entertaining people all over the world with his stories and songs of Montana, delivered in his homespun country style.
He plays a handmade guitar with more holes and dings in it than Willie Nelson’s famous axe “Trigger,” its mellifluous tone a perfect match for Anfinson’s folky tenor voice.
His most recent album came out in 2016, but I just heard it played on the radio last Memorial Day. The album is called The Ballad of Minnie and Pearl, and the closing cut happens to be the most honest, unaffected version of the National Anthem you’re ever likely to hear: it’s the kind of version you can imagine Charlie Russell or Teddy Blue Abbott crooning to the cows late at night somewhere in the Judith Basin.
The title takes its name from the first song, an Anfinson original (Grizzly Gulch Music, BMI) about a pair of working horses Anfinson uses around his Last Chance Ranch way up in the mountains, above Helena. He used them for everything from skidding logs to pulling the wagons that he carries folks up to his dining hall in for his world-famous prime rib dinners a few times a summer. It’s one of three Anfinson originals on this album: the other two also offer personal glimpses of the author’s Montana lifestyle, especially “My Old Wood Skis.” He co-wrote “Rhubarb Pie” with another Montana songwriting legend, Jim Schulz.
The album features some other sapphires in the gravel as well. “Wild Prairie Rose” was written by the late Jay Rummel, mostly famous for his graphic artwork, but also admired and respected for his country music and for hosting a weekly show at Luke’s Bar in Missoula back in the 1980s called “Ace Wheeler’s Talent Showcase.”
Rummel died in 1998 and made very few recordings in his lifetime.
Anfinson recounted how the song ended up on the album.
“My friend Martin Holt came to me when he knew he was getting close to the end of his life and said, ‘Anfinson, this is a damn fine song, and I don’t want it to disappear. It would mean a lot to me if you kept it alive.’”
If you’ve ever taken the Gates of the Mountains boat tour on the Missouri River south of Holter Lake, chances are you’ve heard Canadian songwriter James Keelaghan’s song “Cold Missouri Waters.” It’s about the terrible Mann Gulch Fire in 1949 that killed 13 smokejumpers, inspiring Norman Maclean’s posthumous book Young Men and Fire (1992). Anfinson’s rendition of the song is an unaffected, simple arrangement that strikes to the heart of the tragedy, sung in a plaintive, authentic voice.
Anfinson does some excellent covers of other gems, including Tom Russell’s “Throwing Horseshoes at the Moon” and Ian Tyson’s “The Gift.”
Anfinson is joined in his efforts on the CD by some legendary northwestern talent, including Ken Nelson, who played both bass and piano as well as co-producing the album, and C.M. Russell scholar and impersonator Rafael Cristy on the musical saw. Brian Oberlin chimes in on some tasteful mandolin chops, and Elana James ices the musical cake with some soulful violin.
The Ballad of Minnie and Pearl is widely available online at venues such as CD Baby and Amazon.com, or you can order a copy directly from Mr. Anfinson at www.bruceanfinson.com. MSN