Cowboys & Indians

Let's be honest: Cowboys & INDIANSmight be a fine name for a children's game, a near-defunct film genre or an enormously unoriginal fraternity mixer. But for a magazine attempting to be the highest of high-end chroniclers of all things western? Not so much. While it beats a generic and thoroughly non-evocative moniker like Western Spirit or Ranch Livin'!, a title as dopey as Cowboys & Indians could well undercut the mission of any magazine bearing its imprint.

The September issue of the publication deserves better. While thematic inconsistencies abound - no matter how much she deserves the props for "Side of the Road" alone, southern songwriter Lucinda Williams doesn't belong within six racks of this magazine - Cowboys & Indians at least attempts to forge a distinct identity. One might guess that Antonio Banderas's mug is slapped on the cover owing to its comeliness rather than any legit western tie-in, but C&I tries darn-tootin' hard to make a case for him as a great lover of the West. What I'm trying to say, I suppose, is that the mag's heart seems to be in the right place.

The mag's utter lack of humor and imagination is a bit worrying, though. A section devoted to new products is called, um, "New Products." "Open Range" also takes its name quite literally, offering a smattering of everything from vaguely western-themed appointments (Texas has a Poet Laureate? Are we 100 percent positive the post has nothing to do with oil- and gun-themed Mad Libs?) to what appears to be hastily rewritten press releases on CDs and travel destinations. The issue misses an opportunity by relegating a teensy item on a book about "Cowboy Ethics" to this space; it deserves better than to be clumped alongside "Naughty Nellies" tchotchkes.

Where Cowboys & Indians excels are in those features where, to use possibly the most un-western idiom in the English language, the mag kicks it old-school. The lengthy features devoted to Indian art - a lengthy Q&A with painter Pablita Velarde, a six-page spread on native jewelry, a rapturously photographed story on the prominence and importance of beadwork in Native American cultures - teem with authenticity. The September issue takes a few tentative steps into political waters as well, presenting a snappy interview with former Colorado Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell on leadership within the Indian community.

I didn't take a whole lot away from the issue's travel- or real-estate-themed spreads - an Aspen weekend is about as uniquely western at this point as an episode of "Walker, Texas Ranger" - but man, they sure look purty. In fact, that might be said of the entire magazine, which clearly doesn't skimp on the design. The pages are thicker than slices of pastrami and boast the luscious sheen of a starlet's coif, and the accompanying photography more than takes advantage of the luxe environment. Few lifestyle titles couldn't benefit from picking up a few pointers from Cowboys & Indians in this regard.

I have no idea whether Cowboys & Indians is the preeminent western lifestyle title, mostly because I've never bought into the whole "There's a Tear in My Beer" hyper-sentimental, down-home western stereotype. Frankly, it terrifies me. The magazine, however, crackles during those features when it takes the roots route. For these pieces alone, western enthusiasts ought to take a look-see.

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