The pastoral pleasures of Brent Amaker and the Rodeo’s third album Please Stand By are hard to resist, if you love either the mod 60s Hollywood hillbilly of Lee Hazelwood, or the jittery original cow-punk of 50s Johnny Cash. Amaker’s delivery is dry and wry, and the band cooks up their no-bullshit C&W with a steady sizzle and a few unexpected drunken master punches. The baroque, bourbon-lensed packaging itself is exquisite, as ribald and rococo as anything by Led Zeppelin, and the howl-rattling, full-color comic book included with every copy of the LP gives you as much back story as the libretto for any prog-rock masterpiece.
But what makes Please Stand By the fulsome full length we’ve all been waiting for from Brent since 2008’s Howdy Do (key tracks: “Knock You Out” and “Girls Are Good”) is the spit-shined quality of the new songs and their hard-earned messages. “Doomed” and “Blood Dripping Blood” recommend love, making a life worth living, and not pursuing vengeance, in spite of a cold, hard world where it all falls apart anyways (Johnny Cash would heartily approve, and probably cover any of these). “Good To Be On Top Of The World” is outstanding for its “No thanks!” to mindless greed and ambition, Brent preferring instead to relax and live in his own mind than climb some arbitrary scale for The Man. “Hammer Hits The Nail” warns about trying to BE that Man; steady, boy, do you really want all that stress?
These are almost post-working class songs, leisure anthems for cowboys with no range left to roam. It updates the gospel of peace and pride Merle Haggard and Rank & File once preached, with a sardonic, fuck-it-all Stoicism only the best outlaws can relate. And if the love gone weird and whack sagas of “Break My Broken Heart” and “Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk” seem more traditional and stereotypical in dabbling with double-dealing women, they’re at least absolutely hilarious for it.
Musically, it’s easy to see why Brent and his boys have ended up on big-time compilations like the Caifornication TV soundtrack. The tug and thump of the rhythm section (Sugar McGuinn and Mason Lowe, bass and drums respectively), jangle and poke of the guitars (Ben Strehle, and the immortal Tiny Dancer, who is often asked mid-song to “take it away” with his teary or tearing lead lines) all give sturdy structure to the saloon of Amaker’s stories AND add a sweet coat of varnish out front. This is the kind of album you long to get pickled in and then punched out of. My first favorite album of 2011, that’s for sure.