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Hearing a song like “Man in Charge” from Please Stand By, the debut album from Seattle’s Brent Amaker and the Rodeo, reminds one of how far removed today’s country music is from what it used to be in the days of Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash. The music of the old timers used to conjure up visions of a lonely cowpoke out amongst the buttes and mesas. The new stuff brings to mind Mom shoving the kids into a minivan to take them to the Young Republicans rally.
“Man in Charge” is definitely a throwback to the old sound – it’s a windswept cowboy strut that would fit great on a mix tape with “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” “El Paso,” and “Cattle Call.” It’s all twangy guitars and galloping rhythms, topped with Amaker’s dry as a bone baritone that’s somewhere in the neighborhood of Cash and Rank & File’s Tony Kinman. He comes across like the alt-country evil twin of Trace Adkins.
If there’s a downside it’s that there’s a distinct air of hipster smugness to the whole thing, which has been the hellhound on alt-country’s tail for most of the genre’s existence. Too often, the faux-cowboys of the No Depression set come across like they know they’re a bit too cool to take anything very seriously. Ultimately, though, “Man in Charge” is too fun for that to be a fatal flaw. It hearkens back to the old giants of country & western, and while Amaker and the Rodeo approach it with tongues in cheek, their respect for the genre and skill at performing it shine through the attitude.