Brent Amaker and the Rodeo Head West on 'Year of the Dragon'

Photo by Lance Mercer

If Ron Swanson were real instead of a fictional city worker on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” and if he had a punk-rock cowboy alter ego instead of the smooth-jazz persona Duke Silver, he’d be a lot like Brent Amaker. Like Swanson, Amaker has a baritone voice and a great mustache, and he puts a premium on rugged individualism and self-reliance. It’s all there on “Year of the Dragon” (Fin Records), the lively new album from Amaker and his band, the Rodeo.

The Seattle western crew lays out a stern worldview on “One Idea,” advocates a simple and prepared life on “Suitcase” and lives by their wits in the desert on “Death Is Always Near.” Amaker is the voice of experience on “I Put My Boots On,” a song of bemused exasperation in which he marvels at someone who makes the same mistakes over and over. “I got a scar on my head from beating my head against the wall,” he sings. “It’s hard to watch you slip if you don’t learn from the fall.”

Amaker and the Rodeo, who adhere to a strict cowboy dress code on the road, build their songs around click-clack shuffle rhythms, overlaid with cascades of trebly guitar and punctuated here and there with whistles sharp enough to stop a stampede (and, on “I Put My Boots On,” a wonderfully out-of-place new wave synthesizer solo). It’s stylized cowboy music for a time and place that Amaker essentially invented as a home for stylized cowboy music, but his world is one in which you always know exactly where you stand. Toward the front, of course, where the sound is loudest and the views are best. As Ron Swanson would say, “Trust yourself.”

“Death Is Always Near”

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