MANKATO — As Ron Affolter notes, cowboys don't drive cattle like they used to.
But you can get a pretty fair illustration of the work, hardship and romance of the bygone era from listening to the songs cowboys used to sing on the trail.
"They're not doing cattle drives now," said Lonesome Ron, as he is known on stage. "But you can listen to a song and still get an idea of how the work went."
A veteran musician who has played in a variety of bands and ensembles throughout his career, Affolter didn't begin teaching himself old cowboy ballads until a decade ago. He taught himself to yodel by listening to Gene Autry, Jimmy Rogers and Elton Britt records and began perusing the catalog of such music preserved by musicologist John Lomax in the early 20th century.
Bolstered by an Emerging Artist grant from the Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council, Affolter selected a dozen of his favorites (as well as three of his original compositions) and recorded a 15-track CD, "Songs of the American Cattle Trails," at Cellar Sound Studios in Mankato.
With little else but himself and his guitar, Affolter weaves an often plaintive and mournful tale of life on the open range. In traditionals like "Old Chisholm Trail" and "Streets of Laredo," Affolter's treatment of the rough-hewn life of cowboys is tender and reverent. Even faster-paced selections such as Affolter's own "Molly, Dear Molly" and "Lonely Line Camp" are underscored by a sense of toil and hardship.
"For this record, I wanted to keep it cowboy oriented," he said. "I chose the songs I really enjoy."
If You Go What Lonesome Ron CD release party When 8-10 p.m. today Where Coffee Hag, 329 N. Riverfront Drive Note CDs also available to purchase at Tacy's House (333 Center St., Mankato), the Blue Earth County Historical Society, Old Town Antiques and Rhapsody Music. Also available online at www.LonesomeRon.com