Brent Amaker and the Rodeo

Please Stand By

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Brent Amaker has obviously listened to a lot of Johnny Cash records, and his cavernous, cigarette-and-whisky baritone makes good use of the plainspoken vocal style that made his hero a force of nature. His tone is deeper than Cash's and sounds like it could loosen the nails in the hardwood floor of a Saturday night honky tonk, but Amaker's take on country has more going on than a simple tribute to the Man in Black. There are traces of Nick Cave and Leonard Cohen in his delivery and while the music is undeniably country, Brent Amaker and the Rodeo pepper their style with plenty of hard rock, rockabilly, post-punk, spaghetti Western, and new wave influences. "Johnny's Theme" sets the tone for the rest of the album with an instrumental that rides a backbeat that has the energy of a railroad train roaring down a steep mountainside and plenty of surf twang, spaghetti Western ambience, and the crazed wailing of the bandmembers. Amaker introduces himself on "Man in Charge," a larger than life portrait of a badass just barely in control of himself. This is the kind of hyperbole that can sound embarrassing when done with a straight face, but Amaker pulls it off with his ironic, reverb-soaked delivery. With the exception of "Garden of Love," a slow, desperate love song with a dark edge, everything here is played with a measured mania that makes Amaker's grim world-view shine like a dirty diamond. Highlights include "U.S.A." a Tex-Mex celebration of the country accented by boozy mariachi horns; "Hammer Hits the Nail" a macho hit driven by Tiny Dancer's jazzy surf guitar lead and Amaker's snarling vocal; the rockabilly-flavored "Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk"; and "Blood Dripping Blood," a country-rocker full of murder, mayhem, and, naturally, blood. It's another over the top performance, saved from excess by Amaker's tongue-in-cheek performance. The vinyl edition of Please Stand By comes with a cover of Kraftwerk's "Pocket Calculator" and a bonus 24-page comic book/graphic novel that features plenty of sex, some of it with animals, drinking, and other demonic shenanigans.

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