Here’s my list:
- Big & Rich, “Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)”
- Gretchen Wilson, “Redneck Woman”
- Deana Carter, “Strawberry Wine”
- The Band Perry, “If I Die Young”
- Billy Dean, “Somewhere in My Broken Heart”
Here’s my list:
Written by John King, Matt Rogers, and Justin Wilson
Randy Houser released one of my favorite debut singles back in 2008. I wrote back then that he sounded like a young Ronnie Dunn.
He still sounds like Ronnie Dunn, but now he sounds like him when he was phoning in rave-ups during the latter days of Brooks & Dunn.
“Like a Cowboy”
Written by Randy Houser and Brice Long
It’s hard not to be impressed by Randy Houser’s resilience. His ability to build an audience with a reasonably country sound, all while switching from the majors to an independent label, is pretty amazing.
This was the dilemma faced by the Country Universe staff as we compiled our Best Singles of 2014 feature. We followed our usual routine. Each writer submitted their list of the twenty best singles of the year, and our numbers guru Jonathan Keefe used his time-test algorithm to produce a collective ranking.
But this year, there was only one single that appeared on four out of five lists. The rest: three or less. Rather than shorten the list to showcase only those songs chosen by multiple writers, we decided to stick to the usual forty slots, and let quite a few songs embraced only by one writer to have their place in the sun.
The result is probably the most diverse singles list we’ve ever published, and provides a great counterpoint to our upcoming albums list, which showed far more consensus than any previous albums list has.
Today, we start with the lower half of our top forty singles. Look for the upper half tomorrow, and our albums list on Wednesday.
“Truck Stop Gospel”
Raspy-voiced newcomer Parker Millsap takes it to church on one of the year’s best-drawn character sketches, adopting the persona of a truck driver whose cab doubles as his pulpit. – Jonathan Keefe
Best known as the former frontman of The SteelDrivers and a prolific songwriter, Chris Stapleton is carving out an impressive niche on country radio, far from the band’s bluegrass sound. His first single blends blues and soul, nodding to the record era with Tony Brown’s subdued, crackling production.
Songs about songs are common these days, but this one twists the formula. While music serves as catharsis for both characters, it mostly helps materialize Stapleton’s desperation over that painful distance – figuratively and literally – between him and the emotions of someone who’s no longer his. It’s a clever way to convey heartbreak, and an impassioned one in his hands. With his voice alone, he spins the bridge’s simple question of whether his ex is on an outbound plane or a sunny interstate into striking anguish.
That’s Stapleton’s real offering to country radio: a reminder that the power of a vocal performance can’t be underestimated, even in a genre whose heart and soul is so closely tied to narrative. Hum the base melody of “What Are You Listening To?” and it’s as mild as a children’s lullaby. Hear it with Stapleton’s embellishments, and it’s as crushing as his pain – dipping and breaking and pulling and surging until you’re right there inside his circling thoughts.
Stapleton isn’t the first to bring vocal heft to modern country radio – see: Zac Brown, Chris Young and Randy Houser – but his attempt feels more honest and less tainted by the parameters of his audience, especially in the acoustic performance below. In a year lacking smart, thoughtful releases by male artists, that authenticity makes “What Are You Listening To?” all the more remarkable.
Written by Lee Thomas Miller and Chris Stapleton
Listen: What Are You Listening To?
How Country Feels
Randy Houser impressed the critics with 2010’s They Call Me Cadillac, but country radio yawned, and neither of the album’s two singles cracked the Top 30. Houser’s Stoney Creek Records debut thus comes across as a mea culpa of sorts, as Houser shrugs his shoulders in defeat, and gets ready to do some good old-fashioned pandering.
The title track and first single, which recently became Houser’s first number one hit, was a most accurate preview of the project to follow. Producer Derek George swaps out the tasteful, traditional-leaning arrangements of They Call Me Cadillac for spit-shine polished productions tailor-made for endless airplay. The album is peppered with odes to country living and rural romance. Trucks! Tailgates! Hollers and hills! Country girls! Skinny dipping! Houser shouts Aldean-style over a pounding bass line in “Sunshine On the Line,” and shoehorns in some arena-rock chants in the vapid backwoods come-on “Running Outta
Moonlight.” Lyrical formulas and clichés abound, from “Hands up, rockin’ like a boat… We’re gonna live this never-ending summer like we’re just growin’ younger” to “This kiss, this moment, yeah I just wanna stay in it.” It’s unfortunately fitting that one of the songs finds Houser singing, without a hint of self-awareness, “I wrote a song ’bout absolutely nothing with my toes tapping in the sand,” as the majority of the album’s tracks seem to be about exactly that – nothing.
Even when the songwriters’ aspirations seem to be slightly higher, the songs rarely rise above one dimension. “Route 3 Box 250 D” grasps at domestic violence to create a semblance of emotional heft, but leans on a bare-boned narrative that fails to channel the narrator’s inner struggles and emotions, while the songwriters awkwardly attempt to create a title hook out of the narrator’s home address. Though “Along for the Ride” is one of the better-produced cuts, the lyric offers only dime store pseudo-philosophy with a boring, cliché-driven take on what Iris DeMent said far more eloquently with “Let the Mystery Be.”
The album’s only truly outstanding cut is one unlikely to see the light at radio. “The Singer,” co-written by Houser with Cory Batten and Kent Blazy, is by far the album’s best-written song, utilizing a clear-cut, accessible hook in detailing the struggles behind a marriage in the spotlight. “She loved the singer; she just couldn’t live the song,” Houser sings, effectively summing up the heartache of a woman who loves her famous spouse, but can no longer settle for being “just one of a million screaming his name.” “Power of a Song” speaks to the power of songcraft with a melody that draws out an evocative performance from Houser, but the lyrics don’t pack the punch of past gems like Trisha Yearwood’s “The Song Remembers When” or Sara Evans’ “Three Chords and the Truth.”
The problem of weak material is compounded by the album’s length – a whopping fifteen tracks, roughly half of which are interchangeable. What’s with the need for today’s artists to fill an album up with fourteen, fifteen, sixteen-plus songs when barely five of those songs have anything substantial or authentic to say? Of course, Randy Houser’s performances are consistently solid – unsurprising, as he is in command of one of the strongest male voices on country radio. He even manages to elevate the formula-driven title track into something mildly enjoyable. But the problem remains that there’s no voice strong enough to save a fifteen-track album that’s stacked with poorly-written songs.
How Country Feels will likely succeed in keeping Randy Houser on the radio for the next two years. Nonetheless, we might observe a moment of silence for the early artistic potential that this album leaves largely buried.
Top Tracks: “The Singer,” “Power of a Song”
Buy: How Country Feels
Contest closed. Congratulations to winner Seth Isley, whose favorite Randy Houser song is “Anything Goes.”
Randy Houser’s third album How Country Feels, featuring the hit title track, drops today. Country Universe is pleased to offer one autographed copy of this release to give away to one of our readers, courtesy of Girilla Marketing.
To enter, leave a comment below sharing your favorite song Houser has recorded. A winner will be chosen via random number generator and informed via email, which means all eligible comments must include a valid email address. Comments must be submitted by Saturday January 26, 11:59 p.m. EST.
So without further ado, go ahead and comment away.
He’s clearly still on top of his game vocally, and he delivers “How Country Feels” with gusto. You can almost hear him tapping his toe and bobbing his head just from hearing his performance. The production is pretty thick, but it has a catchy guitar hook going for it.
Unfortunately, the lyrics are pretty uninspiring. The lyrical hook of “Let me show you how country feels” is so-so at best, and the height of the lyrical cleverness is its rhyming “hollers and hills” with “feels.” Plus, you’d think a song called “How Country Feels” would feel a little more… you know… country.
Taken as a piece of ear candy, it isn’t bad. I just hope “How Country Feels” doesn’t start a trend of Randy Houser playing it
Written by Vicky McGehee, Wendell Mobley, and Neil Thrasher
Self-sufficient-life.com 150.jpg” alt=”” width=”150″ height=”150″ />I think I can officially call myself a Randy Houser fan now. After feeling lukewarm to apathetic about his glossy debut album, I was much more enthusiastic about his more organic, but vibrant, sophomore project, They Call Me Cadillac.
Even though that album was only released in October, it produced no hits for Houser. As a result, the album seems to have been abandoned in order to release the inspirational “In God’s Time”, the lead single for an undetermined third album.
The song conveys that the timing of the trajectory of our lives is not always in our control, but instead, the orchestration of God’s timing. The theme of the song is what one might automatically assume it to be by its straightforward title. In fact, its overt nature could easily cross the line to heavy handedness, as so many songs of its ilk tend to do.
Fortunately though, Houser interprets this song with a humble conviction that can only be reliably conveyed by a person who must viscerally know the message to be true.
To accompany Houser’s impassioned, yet graceful performance, the instrumentation for this track is wonderfully restrained. It begins with gentle acoustic guitar strums and manages to subtly build without the obvious swells of an annoying orchestra, but rather, a sweet steel guitar solo instead.
There are similarities to Brooks & Dunn’s “Believe”, but I don’t mind going out on a limb to suggest that, despite Houser’s smaller status, it is a stronger performance and composition when all factors are considered. I can’t predict how “In God’s Time” will do on country radio, but I can venture a guess that it will be a serious contender for 2011 end-of-the year lists.
Written by Randy Houser, David Lee Murphy & Shane Minor
Listen: In God’s Time
How are country artists faring? Let’s take a look at cumulative sales for current albums. Sales are rounded to the nearest hundred.
Top Selling Current Country Albums