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The best kept secret in music


"A Virtual History Lesson in Rock and Roll"

"What I find most compelling about The Payola Reserve is that their albums conceptually invoke an era. 200 Years is a record that compels references to other artists, because the album is a virtual history lesson in rock and roll. The album inoffensively and deftly moves from knee-slapping bluegrass (“Jugband Joan”) to harmonica-infused ballad (“200 Years”) and country twang (“Lost Wind Craze”). The Payola Reserve has a lot of potential for experimenting with their unique influences. They have a sound all their own, comparisons and name-checks aside, and on 200 Years that sound is starting to steal the spotlight.” - Any Given Tuesday


The Payola Reserve- Baltimore, MD bunch whose 2nd record is brimming with such confidence that they tell the record industry what they wanna do (not the other way around). The songs range from folky rock to some sorta Appalachian music to something with a bit more swagger to it (like the guitar-heavy “Portrait Society”). The back photos looks like the Stones recording at Muscle Shoals or something so give ‘em credit for looking cool but ya’ gotta give them more than that because they can write infectious songs too. W.W.K.R.T. ? (What would Keith Richards think?). - Dagger Reviews

"A Great Intersection of Past and Present Sounds"

Say some fairly successful British Invasion band of the mid ‘60s decided to expand upon their infectious melodies and head-shaking rhythms to create a new direction in rock and roll. And say, for the sake of this hypothetical, that this new direction became what we know as the alternative country movement; had this happened, the aural result might sound something like The Payola Reserve. The Baltimore quartet combine the folksy charms and arrangements of country rockers with an early British rock aesthetic. Truth be told, the unsigned band does so with such success that they should be snatched up by a label any day now. Standout tracks include opener “Grade A Television”, the rootsy “All Things Are Better in Heaven” and the title track. A great intersection of past and present sounds, 200 Years is an engaging record that displays a band with a bright future. - PopMatters

"Rich Lyrics and Mind-Altering Flashback Sounds"

The new CD “200 Years” symbolizes major growth for The Payola Reserve. This is a mature, heady LP that draws vivid pictures with rich lyrics and mind-altering flashback sounds. Songs like “Grade A Television” bring us back to a much more contented and uncomplicated time in music. - Famous Indie Minute

"A Nice Rewind to the Days of Soulful Music"

Pranger’s voice twanged into the hearts of the audience as he shared the mic with his harmonica. The combination of his voice with the bluesy rock melodies were a nice rewind to the days where soulful music superceded hip, hot radio edits. These guys kept reminding me of someone I love to hear, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until they closed their set with a Neil Young cover. - MobileBeat @

"Same Path, Different Walk"

They [The Payola Reserve] walk the path that has been paved by musical pioneers before them in a way that’s different from how anyone else walks it. - Redefine Magazine


200 Years, LP: self-released 2007
One Long Apology, LP: self-released 2006
Lay in Wait, EP: self-released 2005



If it's possible for a band to embody both vintage sound and contemporary relevance, The Payola Reserve are on a mission to do just that -- perhaps the forefront of a trend toward a new musical revolution. Imagine Neil Young Americana mixed with Jeff Tweedy modernity. This is a band out to make people remember a time when music mattered.

The latest album 200 Years positions them well on this journey. Rock, folk, country, bluegrass, pop, soul…these words all apply on paper but sound empty next to the train whistle blow of Jugband Joan, the assured city strut of portrait society, the forlorn harmonica of All Things Are Better In Heaven. With geographic precision this record evokes The Payola Reserve’s native Baltimore, the two-step of the Appalachians, the brass sheen of Memphis.

All of this bodes well for the band’s future. That is, if lead singer Ben Pranger could get off the freewheeling apocalyptic trip he’s on throughout one of the collection’s more irreverent songs, Around That Long. Launched in 2005, Pranger, lead guitarist/keyboardist Alberto Pacheco, bassist Bryson Dudley and drummer Ken Fisher have all the elements of dark Americana, but with a psychedelic edge and dynamic instrumentation, including Rhodes, organ, piano and melodic (Pacheco); rhythm and slide guitars (Pranger); and bass, harmonica, guitars and percussion (Dudley).

“According to your television everyone is rich,” cries the first line of Grade A Television. With that the listener is both rebuked and invited to a world littered with sirens and sawdust, a world where Joan of Arc hails from West Virginia and folksinger Bobbie Gentry is the ultimate muse. The characters inhabiting these songs are 21st Century America’s outcasts, either unwilling or unable to stomach the surreal climate of fear, anxiety and mindless entertainment.

Songs like Around That Long and Going Army whimsically address this anxiety both lyrically and musically. The former confronts apocalyptic fear-mongers with sarcastic humor, “When they say they’re getting ready for the rapture, I picture local weather-men enraged,” while Going Army employs jingle-like hooks as a satire of a well-known ad campaign. Lost Wind Craze comes closest to the emotional core of the record, its narrator “carved out, inching away, wheeling around in a lost wind craze,” perhaps the plight of a young band trying to get back what it knows is gone.

It’s fittingly ironic that the band is named after the legendary payola practices of the music industry, yet they’ve been huge on college radio without spending a cent. Their debut 2005 EP Lay in Wait received regular airplay at 226 college stations, while One Long Apology reached #176 on the CMJ national college charts, receiving spins on over 150 stations. Not bad for recordings done from a basement studio in, as they call it, “the Great American Slum.”