Traditional country western music finds its strongest appeal among the Wrangler-wearers who tip their Stetsons as their leather-clad toes tap the rhythm. But take away the wistful themes and nasal twangs, add a deep baritone--deep like Crash Test Dummies frontman Brad Roberts--and you get the hip style of alt-country that has made Brent Amaker and the Rodeo a rising success over the past four years. The group's newest album, Please Stand By, is a continuation of Amaker's hyperbolical cowboy-ness, where the humor lies in the exaggeration of a genre.
Old-school country is rife with heartache, but B.A.R. lightens the mood with relentless up-tempo and flippant lyrics. In "Doomed," for example, Amaker rumbles, "In the end, we're all doomed/Even if you're livin' on the moon, we're all doomed." His resignation to the inevitable offers ironic hilarity, while the overstatement of the bummer inverts its significance, leading to amusement rather than sorrow.
Along the same lines, the mere title "Break My Broken Heart," dares anyone to inflict further torment on the already lovelorn--it's simply not possible. However, the peppy percussion coupled with Amaker's comically deep voice make a mockery of emotional anguish. Backups by the more human-sounding vocals of the Rodeo (guitarists Ben Strehle and Sugar McGuinn, and drummer Bryan Crawford) temper Amaker's Marlboro Man image with a dose of group therapy.
As a whole, Please Stand By is a high-wattage collection with enough energy to bounce listeners through a marathon dance session, toss back a shot of Jack Daniels and then two-step back onto the floor.