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Texas alt-country band
delivers a one-two punch
on their latest EP

Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward - The Apology: Part 1
(Smith Entertainment)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Feb. 18, 2011
Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward

Review by Tony Bonyata

Country-rock can be a downright ugly term, and, judging from the countless subpar bands that've helped define the genre over the last four decades, it's, more often than not, even an uglier sound. While I wouldn't dare lump the Denton, TX-based band Rodney Parker & 50 Peso Reward in with the likes of [insert your favorite/least favorite country-rock band here] they, nonetheless, specialize in their own brand of country music that does indeed rock... often quite hard. But instead of slapping together heavy-handed country twang with arena rock histrionics, Parker & company offer up sturdy, often introspective southern compositions strong on song-craft, while checking any country-fried clichés at the door. What makes much of their music so powerful is not flashy guitar leads or forced time changes (and I seriously doubt you'll ever catch these dudes in cheetah-skin spandex trousers), but rather a tight-but-loose dynamic between the five bandmembers. Led Zeppelin were masters of this musical swagger (albeit with the flashy solos and time-changes), and while RP50PR stylistically have little in common with Zeppelin, they do share an inherent chemistry and implosive music dynamite that can turn even a heartfelt ballad into a muscular, shit-kicking rocker. This may explain why they've graced the cover of their latest five-song EP, The Apology: Part 1 with the image of a large dirigible, which hearkens directly back to Zeppelin's iconic 1969 debut album cover.

Of course, if musical comparisons were to be made, then surely bands such as alt-country purveyors Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt, and even second and third generation country outlaws like Steve Earle and Old 97's would spring to mind.

The Apology: Part 1 follows up RP50PR's two previous full-length albums, Blow The Soot Out and 2008's remarkable The Lonesome Dirge, and builds on the strengths of both these records - bridging well-told stories with fiery musicianship and a true sense of untamed Americana music. The opening number "Guitars" charges out of the gate with an unbridled exuberance, as Parker cries out during the song's chorus "'Cause I've been waiting, staring up at the stars. And I've been waiting for the beat of the morning light. Anticipating the part where the music starts... well, the guitars are coming alive tonight." Yet it's not only the guitars that ignite here, but also the taut, whip-crack rhythm section and Parker's warm and impassioned vocal delivery. While "The River Song" incorporates some folkier strings, the band's signature musical punch is ever-present as they stampede into the song's chorus.

What makes this EP so arresting is the same formula that worked for their last album - superbly composed songs expertly played out by seasoned musicians, and, of course, Parker's own honest, soulful voice that pulls as much from the gut as it does from the heart (and in my opinion is one the strongest, if not the strongest, voices in country music today). Perhaps no better song typifies this than the handsome title track, a song that, if this were a perfect world, would've been a huge radio hit for Parker & The Pesos.

When all is said and done, the only apology Parker really needs to make, though, is the brevity of this strong fistful of songs, as the five tracks clock in at just over 18 minutes, leaving a big sense of want for much more. Tell you what, though, Rodney... you release Part 2 of The Apology soon and all will be forgiven.

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