Under Yellowstone Skies

Montana Tunesmith

This album is a concept album. It does a good job translating the Greater Yellowstone area into music, both lyrically and musically. If you like tight sibling harmonies, then this c.d. is for you.

Montana Magazine Reviews: Under Yellowstone Skies , Montana Tunesmith, 1999. If I had to choose one CD to represent Montana in a time capsule, this would be it. Fifth-generation Red Lodge brothers Tim and Mike Nordstrom sing about family, firefighters, hunting, fishing, mining, Native Americans, small town bars, and the wildlands that make Montana so special.


"Under Yellowstone Skies" is the first recording from the Red Lodge-based duo, which could easily be subtitled "The Gospel of the Book of Montana according to Mike and Tim Nordstrom." The spirit of the tunes and lyrics expresses a delightful and justified Montana pride. As a longtime aficionado of melody, harmony and words I could understand, I found this CD a real treat to hear. The tunes range from folk to light rock with an element of bluegrass woven in - including a song honoring the late John Denver.

Lyrics like those from "Comin' Home" ("There's room here for our biggest dreams/and you should see these mountains, see these streams") and from "First Snow" ("Out on the edges of town cornfields cut down/The scarecrow's job is over now") are diversely poetic. "New Age Religion" shows a vivid imagery ("My church is the grass and the trees/In a clear mountain meadow you can still hear the echo/Of God's words swirlin' round in the breeze... And the birds form a thousand voice choir/The wildflowers grow under steeples of snow/A stained glass that stretches for miles"). So does "Castin' For Cutthroat" ("Well the weather it turns on a dime/You might see a Fourth of July snow").

Chris Cunningham's harmonica is sweet and soulful on "Montana Therapy," an eloquent appreciation of the difference between life here and life in the asphalt jungle of urban America. Better check your rear view mirror for cops when the "Comin' Home" track starts, because this poignant tribute to the Nordstrom's Swedish immigrant great-grandmother has a chorus that will make you feel like puttin' the pedal to the metal.

"Boot Jack Gap" tells the story of a young man's move away from an abusive father who said he'd never amount to anything, to a new life in the west fighting fires with the National Park Service, where he proved himself through a heroic rescue of his trapped teammates. The haunting "Smith Mine" poses questions we all ask ourselves after every tragedy, "Why does this happen to the best of men/The odds are it could happen again/Another place, another time down the line..." The track is wisely followed by "Small Montana Bar," a bouncy little song celebrating the little watering holes scattered across the state.

The CD's cover notes say that Tim was inspired to write tender "Little Aurora" after the birth of his daughter. Parents everywhere will recognize the feeling evoked by the lyric, "And you'll be changing with the seasons, I'll be searchin' for a reason/To keep the hands of time from moving so you'll never grow old."

There's even a song about a dog, "Born to Retrieve." This "tale" about the family's Labrador, who is "less than a dog more like a friend," expresses what many of us feel about our animal companions.

A touching Native American flute instrumental written and performed by Ken Light, serves as an introduction to the title song. "Under Yellowstone Skies" is a thoughtful piece about the difference between the Native Americans' relationship with the buffalo and that of modern day man.

"The musicians really did an exceptional job," Tim Nordstrom said.


If ever there were a soundtrack to Montana, "Under Yellowstone Skies" by Montana Tunesmith would be it.

Capturing the landscape and wildlife of the last best place in every song, this CD seems to celebrate everything that makes Montana history and culture unique: buffalo, Native Americans, homesteading, family, mining, Yellowstone Park, hunting, fishing and the struggle to maintain our valued way of life in the thread of uncontrolled growth and development.

Tim Nordstrom is a very fine guitarist and singer, but his songwriting is what really stands out. He cites John Denver as a major influence, and he has similarities to James Taylor as well. But his biggest songwriting influence is probably Yellowstone Park, where he has worked as a summer ranger and marveled at its natural wonders.

A year ago he began playing as a duo with his brother Mike as Montana Tunesmith. This is definitely a case of the whole being better than the sum of its parts. As with many family groups, the Nordstrom brothers' voices blend so seamlessly as to sound like one.

The CD reproduces the homegrown sound of their live performances with just enough instrumental augmentation to enrich the mood of each song's lyric: a harmonica here, a fiddle or Dobro there, Native American flute. Nothing is overdone; each adds just the perfect touch.

While the professional quality of this recording is probably in part due to Tim Nordstrom's stint in as a songwriter in Nashville, it is all homegrown: recorded outside of Bozeman, with guests like adult national fiddle champion Nancy Padilla of Belgrade and Ken Light of Arlee on the Native American flute.

It is difficult to select the standouts on this collection, as any song is worthy of title track status. That honor goes to "Under Yellowstone Skies," which addresses the bison debate from the viewpoint of the buffalo's essential role in our own destiny.

Each track is Montana specific, but they all manage a degree of universality that shouldn't limit them to a local audience. Sending this to wayward friends or family members outside of God's Country will have them longing for home before album opener "Montana Therapy" is over.

Sporting enthusiasts will enjoy "Castin' For Cutthroat" and "Born to Retrieve." History and culture buffs will love "Comin' Home," about the Nordstroms' homesteading great-grandmother; "Smith Mine," joining the long tradition of mining disaster songs (their grandfather helped recover the victims); or "Small Montana Bar," about the unofficial community center in every small Montana town.

The songs that have the greatest potential outside of their Montana base are "New Age Religion," about the awesome presence of the divine in creation; "Brother John," a very Denver-esque tribute to one of the Rocky Mountains' most famous troubadours, John Denver; "Little Aurora," written for Tim's baby daughter; and for anyone who has ever associated a place with a life-changing event, there's the powerfully evocative "Boot Jack Gap."

Review of Montana Tunesmith's UNDER YELLOWSTONE SKIES

by Emily M. Parris

"Brother John" is the song dedicated to John on this mellow, easy going album that celebrates nature. In the album jacket it says...

"I grew up listening to John Denver on 8-track tape. His melodies impressed me most as a young boy. As a young adult it was his conviction and his belief in preserving nature that impressed me."

The song celebrates John and his interest in preserving all things natural.

The CD mentions the virtues of Montana as well. In "Montana Therapy" the lyrics talk about returning to the mountains of Montana for renewal, and the cute song "Small Mountain Bar" talks about their local establishments. "Castin' For Cutthroat" talks about an idyllic summer spent fishing in the Beartooth Mountains. The song "The First Snow" tells about the first flakes that fly in the winter and the lovely "Little Aurora" talks about the night his daughter, Abigail Laura was born. Two songs ("Spirit of Yellowstone" and "Under Yellowstone Skies") were inspired by his time working as a seasonal park ranger in Yellowstone National Park. I liked this album. The lyrics are interesting; the themes remind me of a John Denver album and the tunes are easy going. They celebrate nature, wild places and loving ties of family at home.

Montana Tunesmith & their CD "Under Yellowstone Skies"

By Tom May Producer, "River City Folk" National Public Radio syndicated radio broadcast

"Montana Tunesmith" is Tim and Mike Nordstrom, whose songs come like a fresh autumn breeze across the Bitteroots. Utilizing tight, brotherly harmonies and lovely melodies, their songs about family, home and geography cause me to reflect again on the true meaning of "folk music"- music written for its own sake, from the heart.

Still, there is no lack of expertise and care taken with the songs. From the lighthearted "Small Montana Bar" to the tragedy retold in "Smith Mine", Tim and Mike summon up crystal clear images of Montana as it is and was. Their lyrical treatment of the romantic west is accurate and sometimes heartbreaking, but always listenable and entertaining.

These two Red Lodge residents are something special in the world of acoustic music. Capturing the west and its people on a canvas of song, Montana Tunesmith quietly achieves the same effect as a Karl Bodmer portrait of the same land-satisfaction, enjoyment, and serenity. Keep writing and singing, guys....we need you to remind us of what is real, and what really matters"

Tom May producer, "River City Folk" national public radio syndicated radio broadcast.. since 1991.......

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