Cowboy music is in the air.---

Besides the upcoming

at the New Mexico History Museum, there's other news worth a hearty yee-haw : Paul Kelly's newest album of originals (co-written with Buddy Guido), Old New Mexico , was honored last month by the Academy of Western Artists as their pick for 2012's Album of the Year.

Kelly, the longtime co-owner of Paper Tiger, explains to SFR, "I didn't submit to this. There were 60 or so albums nominated this last year, so it was a big honor."

He describes the AWA as "a folklorish bunch," who also give awards in non-musical categories such as spur making and...chuck wagon, er, excellence.

The album's anthemic opener "America, a Miracle," praises the founding fathers along with "freedom of speech and religion...rights that are god-given."

"Diversity and tolerance," he barks out, "for everyone on all sides of the fence! Controversy and the quality of mercy, make strong the fabric of our na-ay-tion!"

Other songs display a mix of humor and tongue-in-cheek simplicity. In "Dog Tired, Bone Dry," he sings about desert dehydration: "a nice beer would cool me down, but I'll be truthful sir, I'd even settle for a bottle of your damn Perrier [with a heavy r ]"

This track is followed by a spoken poem describing the state of drought with surprising sophistication.

The album is peppered with guest appearances by Santa Fe notables like Bill Hearne and Cathy Faber, and includes such diverse instruments as harmonica, washboard, jug and pedal steel. Though Western music is roots oriented and relies on much of the same instrumentation as country music (plus the occasional background crackling of campfires), it is a distinct genre.

"It's a little bit along the lines of bluegrass," Kelly says. "Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of young bluegrass hotshots out there, but it's more about playing things the way they've been played. You don't have to worry about it changing around every year, it's more about following the traditions."

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Album cover photo by Bernard Plossi