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
Quote by Ben Foster:
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.”
Well, apart from the 80s arena-rock production values (which I feel are wrecking a lot of what is supposedly called “country music” today, and not just here), Houser’s lyrical content on the entire album, just like the title track on its own, just seems to depict country music as only being about the South, and about rubes and hicks and rednecks, which are dreadful stereotypes, all.
Mind you, this isn’t to put down “hills and hollers”, but it is to say that there’s much more to country music than that; that not all country music is the same in every part of America; and that, at least out here in the West, there’s still a heck of a lot of rural themes to be mined in song, from honky tonks to farms, ranches, mountains, deserts, long stretches of two-lane highways, and such. Just something to consider (IMHO).
Another album I won’t be buying. I guess he’s seen how successful Blake Shelton’s been. Can’t blame him I guess for wanting to make some bucks.
I didn’t think it was THAT bad. There were definitely more than a few songs that sounded like tracks that Luke Bryan passed on. It wasn’t traditional country sounding by any means, but I still think it fits his “sound”, and I think it’s actually unique from most artists out there.
Maybe my expectations were too low, but I was glad that he hadn’t “sold out/caved in” to radio/mainstream pressure as much as I thought he would.
He released “Anything Goes” and apparently, anything goes with Randy Houser. I was hoping he stay on the straight and narrow when it comes to choosing good music that will actually produced like a country record. That did not happen. I am very disappointed. There are twenty other artists out there already doing the Jason Aldean gimmick, we don’t need another but we’re getting one weather we like it or not.
Haven’t heard the album all the way through yet, but this is a great review.
I take back my earlier comment about it being unique and fitting his sound after re-listening to the CD today. It’s just that his VOICE is so distinctive, that it honestly overshadowed the arrangements and instrumentations most of the time, for me. Randy Houser, to me, is one of those that I’d listen to sing the phone book.
I was disappointed by this album, especially because I love his voice and really enjoyed his previous album. I really only like three songs from this: “The Singer”, “Along for the Ride” and “Route 3 Box 50 D.” The rest really does sound like Jason Aldean/Luke Bryan clones.
Haven’t heard the album yet, but great review :)
But, what I don’t get, is why people feel the need to always bash Bryan/Aldean when it comes to things like this.
Because they’re the ones leading the vapid, rock anthem charge in country music right now.
I grieve for the days when country music wasn’t about the landscape any more than it was about work, love, heartbreak, and the emotional gamut that every human shares. The rampant limiting (oxymoron, hah!) of themes nowadays is pathetic, and the irony is that the “sound” most often employed by these “rural pride” anthems is throwback-sixties/seventies arena rock in texture. Rarely is heard a steel guitar, much less a fiddle, and god forbid anyone pick a banjo.
I am hardly in favor of limiting the sound of the genre — but the themes have become so monotonous and insular that, even as a lover of the genre, it’s a drag for me to listen to one solid hour of country radio. The title song, while well sung, is just another example of the problem. I wonder if I’ll still be listening to country radio in, say, three years. It’s pretty depressing.