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"Ro Agents’ new album is frighteningly good. Listen to track five, “T.R.A.” Notice how it begins rather gloomily, a sort of co-opted field holler (“I say whoa, lil’ child/ Heaven is watching you”). This, you think, will be a somber affair. Then, midway through, without warning, the song lifts into pop balladry. Pay attention to the introduction of the slide guitar, the fulsome three-chord progression. The transition is sudden, joyful. More importantly, it’s convincing. When Ro’s mood changes, we believe it.
And this is good news. When dealing with the pains and exaltations of folk-western country, the worst thing a band can do is come off as inauthentic. Luckily, Ro nary sings a false note. Her voice, which floats midway between Joplin and Loretta Lynn, carries the band’s simple, easy lyrics. We’re told of lonely lovers, the hazards of “whiskey” and “pills”—classic material for the downtrodden country vixen, but here rendered with fresh remorse. Ro is concerned with the state of her soul, its order and flux, and if your life has been anything like hers, you’ll miss the sound of her voice when it’s not around.
Ro’s singing is accompanied by the instrumentation of Gary Langol, a musician of limitless ability. Seriously, limitless. Langol plays every instrument on the album with the alacrity of a seasoned composer. It’s one thing to master a single instrument, but quite another to master them all. This reviewer’s ear detected guitar, bass, banjo, harmonica, xylophone, and drums—and if one forgets about Langol for a moment, he imagines himself listening to an entire studio band. On “Yellow Roses,” one of the few purely instrumental tracks on the album, Langol’s sad guitarwork says as much as any pageful of lyrics.
The album hits its note early and holds it. We get sixteen tracks, most of them terse, all of them concerned with the same heartache and pain. A few particularly jeremiadic songs attain the high-polish lonesomeness of Roy Orbison’s sweet, grim stuff. Others remind you of Tammy Wynette, Irma Thomas, and Marianne Faithfull. Sometimes Ro can be playful, self-conscious (“I have no chorus, except just to say…”), but mostly she’s all guts. Her songs are bleak, even dark. Again, late in the album, when she growls “I’m ready to kill,” we believe her."