By Brian Rill
On Nov. 6, legendary country artist Chuck Pyle passed away unexpectedly. His body was removed from the aquamarine waters of Palmer Lake after he went fly-fishing near his historic Colorado cabin. Mr. Pyle was later pronounced deceased at the age of 70. His 13th album was recorded in January this year. The unprecedented swan song has become a final tapestry in the long tale of an enlivening songwriting career. Two thirds of Chuck’s life had been spent writing songs and traveling, singing around the countryside and playing for packed audiences in his 100 shows a year. Chuck’s legacy includes crafting special pieces for John Denver, Chris LeDoux and Jerry Jeff Walker. Mr. Pyle has performed at the opening sessions of the Colorado State Legislature. He was hailed as the favorite musician of tech giant and philanthropist Bill Gates and also appeared as a guest on the PBS series Spirit of Colorado.
A high-and-dry land drifter from dusty Iowa roads, Chuck scours the land forms searching for evidence left from a perfectly constructed plainsong. The solidly crafted tunes on Cover Stories manage to soothingly respect a Highwaymen vibe, delivering 12 songs at just the right tempo in just the right order. It’s a classic recipe for a hit country CD, duplicating immortal vibrations from 1922 when the first fiddle song was recorded on a roll of wax to the modern twang of country hymns.
Accompanying campfire hoedowns, dancing between Prickly Pear shadows over windswept glacial deposits, a cluster of rustic musicians is silhouetted sipping whiskey under revolving stars. Chuck Pyle can be heard among them, singing vociferously abreast the blaze, his serene, smoky vocals carrying over cackling embers flying above the wide brim of his cowboy hat. Chuck solidly croons along to Don Richmond’s serpentine slide guitar as the smooth Dobro strings are slightly plucked, stirring their pitch into a polished glissade. Pyle is a true hillbilly’s outlaw, with an instinctive flare for unflashy chord progressions that he fingers underneath a slacking yet articulate drawl. Gordon Burt conjures a lonely spirit on his violin, cascading solos randomly throughout the songs while intervening into the complex melody a sanctified sound, like plain cactus needles drifting in lorn windy torrents.
40 Days of Rain, written by BMI artist Jeff Talmadge, is the second-to-last song on Cover Stories. It begins with the sound of a deluge, bringing visions of driving through Midwestern monsoons in a 1971 Chevelle. On the radio, you hear the opening minor chords and Chuck’s deep, steady voice starts weaving into the whispery new song right after Riders on the Storm by The Doors. Once Morrison’s baritone fades away through the downpour, you can hear Chuck’s delayed drawl that cries, “Sometimes you get the thunder when the rain is what you need, sometimes all you can do is pray. Lately I been praying hard for forty days of rain, to come and wash this whole damn place away.” Chuck reserves the best and most symphonious number for last. On the twelfth song of the thirteenth album, Chuck Pyle resurrects a loungy blues number with an upbeat yokel style. Originally written by Chuck Cannon and Phil Madeira, If I Was Jesus simply states “I’d lay my life down for you and show you who’s the boss. I’d forgive you and adore you while I was hanging on your cross; if I was Jesus.”
Brian Rill is a troubadour, composer and poet.