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REVIEW
Rodney Parker & Fifty Peso Reward - The Lonesome Dirge

by Steve Circeo

Rodney Parker & Fifty Peso RewardIf you've ever wondered what you would get if you crossed the powerhouse persona of Bruce Springsteen with the Celtic vibe of The Waterboys and then threw in a good dollop of that je ne sais quoi we 'round 'chere just like to call "Texas,"you can wonder no longer. What you'd get is a romp through a magical musical wonderland in the form of a record called Rodney Parker & Fifty Peso Reward's The Lonesome Dirge.

Despite the title, Parker and the gang are not commemorating the dead here — well, not often, anyway — but they are, rather, sitting around drinking a few beers, observing life, and commenting on the people they see walking by, and then, with a few more beers, commenting on the men in the mirror.

"Firefight" opens the record dramatically, with a ringing guitar riff and a rabid drumbeat that will rouse you from whatever otherworld you may have been contemplating spending time in with this thing playing in the background. The song is a call to everyone within earshot that these guys have something to say and you'd better stop and listen.

By track three, I could really see the size of Parker's balls, because just as I was thinking, "sounds a bit Springsteeny," here comes a cover of The Boss's "Atlantic City." Really? Covering that tune takes, if I interpret Parker's lyric correctly, "two of the other," the likes of which I haven't seen since Mike McClure took on Van the Man's "Into The Mystic." The danger, of course, with a relative unknown covering such a revered tune from such a revered artist is that the cover song could become regarded as the best song on the record, invalidating the rest of the album in one fell swoop. If you're going to cover a tune like that, you had better bring it with your original stuff.

Rodney Parker & Fifty Peso Reward flat out bring it!

After "Atlantic City" the record rolls into a my favorite three-song section on The Lonesome Dirge. It starts with "In The River," a song about a deadend relationship featuring guy who "needs a woman, but he just needs the kind he's never met." That moves right into the haunting steel-guitar enhanced "Brother," which leads us to the (also haunting) "Ghost," the best song on the album.

"Ghost" features a beautiful melody, wonderfully arranged background instrumentation, and a superbly understated vocal performance by Parker. All the elements blend perfectly, making this song a fine example of complex simplicity at its best. I don't know whose idea it was to add the horn, whether it was producer Erik Herbst, the player, Mike Maher, or Parker himself, but that move was a stroke of genius, adding just that right amount of depth to the sound.

Now, I have to admit, the first time I listened to The Lonesome Dirge, and the album's other cover tune, Kinky's "Wild Man From Borneo," came through the speakers, my initial impression was that we don't really need another cover of "Wild Man." I also have to admit that I still feel that way. But "A Knife Beneath Your Pillow," which follows "Wild Man," gets the record back on track with some cool guitar work and Parker again delivering an admirable vocal performance, not so understated this time.

"I'm Never Getting Married" will surely become an anthem to any confirmed bachelors (and confirmed-bachelor wannabes) who hear it, and will inspire singalongs at Fifty Peso Reward shows — out loud from the unattached men in the crowd, with silent participation from all others. The album's coda, "11 Hours," is as sedate as the opening track is frenetic. It's a great way to bring the record to a close.

In the previously mentioned song "Brother" Parker sings that "you don't fight with your head, you don't fight with your heart." The Lonesome Dirge is an announcement to the world that Rodney Parker & Fifty Peso Reward have chosen to fight with their music. And I can report to you that they are the winners by a knockout.

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