With a name like “Billy Roberts and the Rough Riders,” one can almost hear the type of proto-barn-stomping, hard-folking, country-shocking rockers made-to-order on the band’s new album, The Last of the Originals. Can there be a more aptly-named record for a group of guys that distill the sounds of Neil Young, Hank Williams, Jr., the Black Keys, and even “the Man in Black” himself into something completely their own?
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Billy Roberts doesn’t hail from the backwoods of Georgia; he and his Rough Riders are Australian. But if you think that gives him an unfounded responsibility to prove himself in an historically-American genre of music — well, you’d be wrong. It’s that nose-thumbing to society that makes Roberts’ music so electrifying. He’s literally making music without a choice. It’s in his blood.
In the first single from The Last of the Originals, the twangy country-flavored jammer “No More Mr. Nice Guy,” Roberts sets the tone for the rest of the album, which is one derived right from ’90s country radio, before cowboys were rock stars. That’s not to say that the Riders have no heart; on “With You,” a ballad with a back-beat, Roberts sings of a past love in a mournful tone that echoes into the listener’s soul. He shows true determination on “I’m Gonna Get That Girl,” while album-opener “Mrs. Jones” is a Tom Petty-esque head-bopper with elegant piano flourishes. It is, perhaps, that juxtaposition of sounds and genres that makes Roberts’ music oh-so-listenable, even for those who could care less about country.
And, anyway, Roberts isn’t concerned with sticking to a musical playbook. He doesn’t even care if you like him or not. As he, himself, says, “I would rather be more than I promised and less than I said. I don’t wanna be someone I am not.”