CD Review of Last of the Jewish Cowboys: The Best of Kinky Friedman by Kinky Friedman

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Last of the Jewish Cowboys:
The Best of Kinky Friedman
starstarstarstarno star Label: Shout! Factory
Released: 2006
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“My platform is to remember that when they went out searching for Sam Houston to try to persuade him to be the governor – and he was the greatest governor this state has ever had – rumor has it that they found him drunk sleeping under a bridge with the Indians.”

The above statement was made by Kinky Friedman while on the campaign trail during his quest to be elected Governor of Texas in 2006. Bullz-Eye received our copy of Friedman’s best-of collection while the campaign was still ongoing, but we decided to hang tight on reviewing it until after the election, lest we find ourselves in a position where we had to provide reviews of albums by other gubernatorial candidates. Also, we felt it was very unlikely than anyone else in the race would’ve had material that could compete with songs like “Asshole from El Paso” or “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore,” so it was always doomed to give Friedman an unfair advantage, really.

So what’s the story on Kinky Friedman, you ask?

Friedman’s first real nationwide claim to fame came in 1973, when he and his band, the Texas Jewboys, released their debut album, Sold American, the title cut of which opens this compilation. It’s not exactly what you’d call “outlaw country,” but it’s definitely not the sort of country music that the old folks back in Nashville wanted to hear...although that aforementioned title cut did actually make the Country charts. That debut remains a classic record, however, which is why five of its eleven songs make it into Last of the Jewish Cowboys. To be fair, “Get Your Biscuits in the Oven and Your Buns out of Bed” probably could’ve been a mainstream novelty hit, given lyrics like, “Before you make your weekly visit to the shrink / You’d better occupy the kitchen and liberate the sink.” But can you imagine what radio programmers would’ve done if they’d been asked to put “Ride ‘Em, Jewboy” into their rotations? (Actually, the biggest surprise about the song is that it turns out to be a heartfelt tribute to Friedman’s faith.) Additionally, while a song entitled “The Ballad of Charles Whitman” would seem to be relatively innocuous today, a bit of research reveals otherwise; in 1966, Whitman – suffering from a brain tumor – climbed to the top of a 27-story tower on the campus of the University of Texas at Austin, took his gun, and proceeded to shoot and kill 15 people (and wound 31 more).

If you hadn’t already guessed from some of his song titles that Friedman’s sense of humor runs a bit dark, these lyrics will confirm it.

He was sitting up there for more than an hour,
Way up there on the Texas Tower
Shooting from the twenty-seventh floor, ya-HOO!
He didn’t choke or slash or slit them,
Not our Charles Joseph Whitman,
He won’t be an architect no more.
Got up that morning calm and cool,
He picked up his guns and walked to school.
All the while he smiled so sweetly
And it blew their minds completely,
They’d never seen an Eagle Scout so cruel.

There was a rumor about a tumor
Nestled at the base of his brain.
He was sitting up there with his .36 Magnum
Laughing wildly as he bagged ’em.
Who are we to say the boy’s insane ?

Ho, ho, and, indeed, ho.

Friedman’s lyrical subjects are wide and varied, ranging from classic television (“Something’s Wrong with the Beaver”) to his annoyance with people who read the tabloids (“People Who Read ‘People Magazine’”), but his songs are so consistently, hummable that, inevitably, you, too, will one day have to explain that the catchy ditty you’re whistling is called “Before All Hell Breaks Loose.” And make no mistake: of all the songs on this disc, that’s the one that’ll get stuck in your head for the long haul.

Some have tried to sell Friedman as some sort of ungodly cross between Jimmy Buffett, Randy Newman, and Merle Haggard, but, c’mon, if there’s anyone in country music who you’d be safe describing as having his own sound, it’s Kinky Friedman. His sense of humor is a little on the edge at times, but if you can tell when he’s kidding (and, believe me, it’s most of the time), you’ll laugh your ass off…and by the time you’ve gotten to the end of Last of the Jewish Cowboys, you’ll wish you’d been registered to vote in Texas in 2006.

~Will Harris