Hair, hair everywhere. Country music teems with follicly endowed performers. Kenny Rogers and Brooks and Dunn are champions of facial hair. Faith Hill's blown-out 'do and Crystal Gayle's ass-passing tresses are gasp-worthy. And let us have a moment of silence in honor of Billy Ray Cyrus' flowing mullet ... Amen. It's really sort of weird, then, when a mild-mannered country artist actually shaves his head. Especially in order to embody the moniker Zen Cowboy, bequeathed upon Colorado singer/songwriter Chuck Pyle by various music critics.
"To me, Zen teaches that the desert side and the grass side both have good qualities, that the dark and the light are both valuable," explains Pyle. "Some of the best conservationists I've ever met are cowboys. They have such a respect for all of nature. I've been impressed by that, but at the same time they're a commercial animal-meat grower. Same sort of thing."
Pyle spent most of his life in Boulder but currently calls Palmer Lake home. His cowboy lifestyle includes traveling the country, playing concerts and teaching his popular finger-picking workshops, which feature his acclaimed "Rocky Mountain Slam" technique. Simultaneously producing rhythm guitar strums and lead guitar lines, the technique gives a single guitarist the sound of an entire band.
His eighth and latest album, Romancing the Moment, is a sweet and genial CD, as calming as a prairie sky. Recorded in a room with 30-foot ceilings, Pyle asked the engineer to feature the facility's natural reverb. Nine of the album's 13 tracks were wrapped in a day, all live and nailed in the first take.
"There's no way I could go back and fix anything," Pyle says. "What it shows me is that is that these songs gathered a whole life and energy of their own."
With fiddler and one-time symphony musician Gordon Burt at his side, Pyle encompasses styles from country, folk and boogie to what he calls "folk noir," a subgenre he hatched while sitting around a campfire with his buddies in Texas.
"Most of us would sing bright and cheerful songs, while one fellow sang dark wrist-slitters," Pyle says. "I think of folk noir as investigating the more serious side of the human experience ... tasting the undercurrents of what makes us all tick."
"Affected by the Moon" is a prime folk noir piece, played in a bluesy and gypsy manner in a minor key. "I Found a Dream" is a dreamy slow-dance swinger, while "Inside of My Face" opens with a low-voiced narrative, as if Johnny Cash decided to hire Jim Morrison as his lyricist: "A day can turn into certain disaster / When you're the servant and your mind is the master."
Part of Pyle's Zen Cowboy training took place in Boulder, where he used to be a sort-of busker. Often without even opening his guitar case for money, he sat out front of the Boulder Book Store for the atmosphere.
"I wrote a lot of songs there," Pyle remembers. "People would linger, or pass by, and ... I'd try out different things, making up words and melodies on the spot. The same song could go on for a half an hour, but at the same time, you knew they were there, so you knew you had to land on your feet."
The situation made him more versatile, teaching him how to work through errors.
"It's a lot different doing improv in front of the mirror as opposed to in front of an audience," he says, laughing. "If you make a mistake, just repeat it and nobody will know."
-- Kara Luger
North Star Studios, 3617 Betty Drive, Suite E
Saturday, Aug. 13
Concert: 8 p.m., $30; Finger-picking workshop: 2-4 p.m., $30. Call 392-6182 for tickets, or visit northstarstudios.us for more.