Some compare Rodney Parker to the Old 97’s Rhett Miller is style, tone and subject matter. You won’t find me doing that.
I was designing band and club graphics, doing mural painting and bartending part-time in Dallas’ Deep Ellum in the early 90’s and remember Rhett with his “Mythologies” era Brit-pop stylings, with his teen beat poster-boy looks, playing the bars and coffee houses with an endless pack of swoony sorority scensters in his wake. Safe to say when he headed into alt-country territory with the Old 97s I could appreciate the song craft but he was still a bit too precious.
That said, to compare Denton–based Rodney Parker to Rhett Miller is to give the latter too much credit and the former not enough. If pressed I’d have to say I would liken Parker to West Texas singer/songwriter Joe Ely. Like Ely Rodney Parker, and his phenomenal band the 50 Peso Reward, forge honky-tonk tinged pop spinning tales of love and pain all shot through with humor. But Rodney Parker and the 50 Peso Reward spices up this recipe considerably with a hefty dose of rock. And like any good Texas music worth it’s salt there is plenty of bravado, brawling and whiskey in equal measure.
The Lonesome Dirge tears out of the shoot like an amped-up Ring Of Fire – all Mariachi horns and squeeze-box accordion and Gabriel Pearson setting a furious gallop of military-styled drums that drives this song of roasting rattlesnake, drinking moonshine and spiritual cleansing toward a searing a Springsteen-like anthemic conclusion. Speaking of Springsteen, Parker and Co.take the Boss’ spooky atmospheric “Atlantic City” (hey, that pretty much describes all of Nebraska) and makes it a defiant opportunistic declaration rather than Springsteen’s original exercise in existential resignation.
“In The River” is probably the closest Parker and Co come to a mainstream country song, except that it’s good and structured in ways that take you by surprise. “Brother” is a helluva pedal steel girded mid-tempo rocker about sibling rivalries and “Ghost” moves into melodious Ryan Adam’s-style pastoral narrative territory ending on an Irish ballad note. I’m not sure what brought the Emerald Isle spirit running throughout this release, but it rears it’s head again on “I’m Never Getting Married” which is a straight-up Irish whisky-soaked sing-along celebrating bachelorhood.
It’s good to get the message here in New York City that great music is not only surviving but thriving in the Lone Star State and bands like Rodney Parker & Fifty Peso Reward are doing us proud.