Rodney Parker is sneakier than he looks. At Fort Worth's Horseman Club, he and his band, 50 Peso Reward, looked like any number of other Texas country combos. A clean-cut singer in a polo shirt with a rough-hewn voice, Parker easily could have passed for a Pat Green or a Cory Morrow, but luckily, his band and his songs proved much better than that. Parker's own songs held up well alongside covers of artists like Steve Earle, Fred Eaglesmith and, perhaps most shockingly, Will Oldham, whose records probably don't get a lot of spins in bars like The Horseman. Originals "200 Acres" and "Just the Sounds" showcased Parker's booming voice and his band's first-class arrangements, which were surprisingly tight even without a drummer. "Highway Blues" was another highlight thanks to its buoyantly melodic chorus and a nice banjo part courtesy of 50 Peso Reward's secret weapon, multi-instrumentalist Danny Skinner.
Headliner Max Stalling was somewhat stale by comparison, even in spite of his first-class country songwriting. Delivered in a smooth, country baritone, Stalling's lyrics are his greatest asset, as he showed in the ballad "Fermented Evenings," which tells the story of love gone wrong with a drunken metaphor: "Sweet fruit that was our love/Has been replaced by alcohol." Stalling's band proved its talent when the guys stretched out into some Southwestern jazz during "The Pila Song," but their simple arrangements quickly grew monotonous, causing Stalling's songs to run together toward the middle of the set. Perhaps they could learn a thing or two from 50 Peso Reward, which clearly won the battle of the backing bands on this night.