Armed with the slogan “It don’t mean a thang if it ain’t got that twang” inscribed in the vinyl, the six-song Rubber Rodeo 12-inch helped announce/advance the development of country-punk. The band hailed from Rhode Island, but that didn’t stop it from dressing in Nashville finery and forging a fun and different mix with synthesizer, fiddle, organ and pedal steel guitar. While the originals (especially “How the West Was Won”) are bouncily tuneful and heartfelt, a cover version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” comes off a bit like Heart without the arena pomp.
Following a three-song 12-inch most notable for its inclusion of the theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” Rubber Rodeo misplaced its personality and emerged on Scenic Views playing disappointingly plain dance-rock, the mild pedal steel coloration notwithstanding. Only the vocals — by Trish Milliken and Bob Holmes, sometimes together — serve to distinguish the group at all. “The Hardest Thing,” which most recalls the band’s early Great Plains ambience, is the LP’s strongest song.
Heartbreak Highway (produced by Ken Scott) is much better, but still leaves one wishing the band’s records were more colorful and gimmicky. Rubber Rodeo’s urban cowpoke image remains stronger than its musical personality here, although some of the songs (the title track, “Maybe Next Year,” a radical cover of Fred Neil’s grotesquely sappy “Everybody’s Talkin'” and an instrumental called “The Civil War”) have a redeemingly jaunty air of good-humored kitsch.