The band takes on politics and social unrest in their up-and-coming and controversial EP
Brent Amaker and The Rodeo are not your average country band. Hailing from Seattle, the band uses classic country instruments behind a written song that is far from your prototypical track about beer or heartbreak or the country. Amaker and The Rodeo are largely politically motivated and have become more so in recent years. Citing Johnny Cash as their largest influencer, his image is not hard to see. Performing in all black, complete with Stetsons and boots, these country rockers embody his “fight the power” mindset as well. This is apparent in their political protest songs in their newest EP Ugly World. Though only featuring four songs, they are enough to stir the civil pot and incite debate.
Amaker wastes no time getting political and begins this record with a song titled “Dump Trump.” Beginning with a countrified lick of “Hail to the Chief,” people’s political hypothesis is confirmed. It then graduates on to give listeners the first chance to hear the spoken style of Amaker and his shocking first words, “Can I have back the last four years?” The track is filled with opinionated phrases about the incompetency of President Donald Trump, yet it is backed by simple guitars and a classic country drum riff. By limiting the musical accompaniment, Amaker is able to make the listener focus on his vision of the world.
In their next track, Amaker and The Rodeo turn it up a notch, yet his style of speaking rather than singing continues in “Ugly World,” the title track. A fighting drumbeat is interlaced with a wailing guitar straight out of an old western movie to kick it off. Another politically charged piece, this one aims its sights on the world in general, as opposed to a single person. He speaks on leaders not leading, bars being empty, pretty folk living on his land and trying to force a smile. Amaker sings, “Gotta suck it up do everything you can, this ain’t gonna fix itself, it’s pretty messed up but I gotta be away to keep the Ugly World around.” This line is incredibly important to the song and album as a whole because it shows the ugliness of the world is met with hope.
“Soldier” is the next track on the EP. Differing from his last two songs, The Rodeo opens with just a snare drum and an upright bass. This creates a haunting feeling that runs into the first line of the song: “he emptied out his soul on the trail to happiness, but as it often goes, one misstep leads to bloodshed.” Amaker continues down this dark musical path with ideas of good being overcome, heartache and destruction; all of this foreground is backgrounded by sinister laughs and piano scales that would make Tim Burton proud. “Soldier” is yet another glimpse into the “Ugly World” that Amaker keeps reinforcing.
The final song on the EP is “New Rodeo Anthem.” Again, they find new instruments, rhythm and style to add to this album. A drifters anthem, descriptions of loneliness, sorrow and despair are met with the escape of the rodeo. It seems fitting to conclude the album with this song. Though people live in a crazy, messed up world, there are things that they can do to make it a better place even if it’s just for a little while. In addition to this, this is the best song musically. With more singing, more honky-tonk guitar and rambling drums, this is the song that should be listened to if one was to listen to just one song.
It’s always commendable when artists are able to express themselves politically. Musicians such as the Chicks and Kid Rock have been scrutinized and persecuted for their opinions by the industry and radio for years; especially in country music, a liberal-minded artist often times has a hard time finding traction, but Brent Amaker and The Rodeo did not care and that is something that is deserving of respect. However, though it is important for those with a platform to speak their minds, the music has to be there as well. If the music itself—the writing, the singing and the instrumentation—had been more profound, Ugly World could reach a lot more people and change a lot more of the world.