My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Levi Lowrey

Album Review: Randy Houser – ‘How Country Feels’

how country feelsRandy Houser’s third album, while his most consistent to date, is still a very mixed bag. Derek George’s production is generally unsubtle and loud, and acceptable but uninspired on the quieter tracks. Houser’s career seemed to have hit the roadblocks, when he left Show Dog-Universal for independent label Stoney Creek. However, ‘How Country Feels’ his first single for the new label proved to be a hit, and became only his second top 10 single to date. It isn’t a very interesting song, but regrettably that seems to be what it takes for commercial success these days.

New single ‘Running Outta Moonlight’, written by Dallas Davidson, Kelly Lovelace and Ashley Gorley, is quite catchy but too loud, and while not dislikeable, rather bland lyrically with its generic picture of outdoor romance in the South. However, its very flaws make it a good bet to repeat the performance of ‘What Country Feels’. Much the same goes for the equally loud ‘Growin’ Younger’, written by Randy with Justin Weaver and Brett James, with its positive but unoriginal message about living life to the full, and I could see this as a successful single later this year.

The nadir of the album is reached with ‘Absolutely Nothing’, a half-spoken, largely tuneless, incredibly bland and completely pointless song about doing nothing. It’s the kind of thing that was probably fun at an uninspired writing session, but has no interest for anyone else (the guilty parties are Lee Brice, Joe Leathers and Vicky McGehee). Luckily, it is the only track (of 15) which has absolutely no merit.

There is a handful of genuinely outstanding songs which make this project worthwhile (or are at least worth downloading separately). Perhaps the best of all is ‘The Singer’, written by Trent Willmon and Drew Smith. It is a tender portrait of the (ex?) wife of a successful but troubled musician:

She loved the singer
She just couldn’t live the song

Almost as good is Randy’s own ‘Power Of A Song’, written with Kent Blazy and Cory Batten. This gentle but powerful ballad sounds as though it was inspired by ‘Three Chords and the Truth’, telling the story first of a man planning on leaving his wife and kids and turned around by hearing a song on the radio:

That’s the miracle of music
Loves’s the only thing as strong

The second verse is a contrasting, and even more powerful, story of a woman who never thought she would have the courage to leave a violent relationship – and this time the song gives her the strength not to turn round, 40 miles out. Oddly, this great song has a copyright date of 2004, but somehow has never been cut before. I’m garteful Randy revived it for this album.

The third great song is ‘Along For The Ride’, a pensive philosophical number with gospel-style paino and a bluesy feel to the vocals which Randy wrote with Zac Brown and Levi Lowrey. The last standout is the closer, ‘Route 3 Box 250D’, even though it is a co-write about rural life with Rhett Akins and Dallas Davidson. What makes it work is that it is an emotionally invested, detailed story about a specific family situation which feels very real, which does not shy away from the dark side. The story of growing up in a trailer in Mississippi with a violent stepfather with the only refuge fishing on a neighbour’s pond until the child’s prayers are answered when rescue comes from an uncle is deeply moving, as the protagonist reflects,

That’s where I became a man
Long before my time

The lyrics note bleakly, “Hollywood don’t make no movies” about the kind of life he led, but actually there is the kernel of a film, or perhaps a novel, in this song.

I liked ‘Shine’, written by Neil Thrasher, Trent Summar, Wendell Mobley. Set to an engaging banjo-led arrangement (but still a bit too loud), it tells the story of a rural moonshiner giving some hope to the residents of a town badly affected by the economic downturn of the past few years.

‘Top Of The World’, written by Jason Sellers, Rob Hatch, Lance Miller and Vicky McGehee, is a pretty good mid-tempo love song with a catchy tune, and I also quite liked ‘Goodnight Kiss’, written by Hatch and Sellers with Randy. ‘Wherever Love Goes’ is a pleasant contemporary country duet with labelmate Kristy Lee Cook, written by Sellers with Neil Thrasher and Paul Jenkins.

‘Like A Cowboy’ and ‘Let’s Not Let It’ are decent songs both co written by Randy, hampered by heavy handed production. ‘Sunshine On The Line’, written with Dallas Davidson, has a fairly generic lyric about good times with a pretty girl in the summer, but is saved by the energetic Southern rock performance.

This is an uneven record, which always makes giving a grade somewhat notional. The best songs deserve A status, and I recommend cherrypicking those to download. I suspect these are the ones that won’t get played on radio, but it is good to see that artists with one eye on the charts are stil able to include songs of substance on their albums.

Grade: B

Single Review: Zac Brown Band – ‘Colder Weather’

In many ways, the Zac Brown Band reminds me of the sort of act that could frequently be heard on Top 40 AM radio stations in the 1970s when artists such as Mac Davis, Ronnie Milsap, Anne Murray, and Crystal Gayle were fixtures at the top of both the country and pop charts. Though the boys from Georgia are more firmly rooted in country music than their 1970s counterparts, it’s not difficult to imagine them achieving the same kind of crossover success with many of their records. Their current release, “Colder Weather” is prime example. Reminiscent of Dave Loggins’ 1974 hit “Please Come To Boston,” it tells the tale of a man with wanderlust, who in the song’s first verse, is heading back out on the road, leaving behind the woman who loves him. As he bids her farewell, she says to him:

“… you’re a rambling man
And you ain’t ever gonna change,
You got a gypsy’s soul to blame
And you were born for leavin’.”

By the second verse, however, the song moves in a different direction. Unlike Loggins’ song where the main character keeps moving from place to place, “Colder Weather’s” protagonist pulls into a truck stop diner and starts having second thoughts about having left his lover behind. He returns to her but it isn’t long before the urge to roam overtakes him again. By the end of the song there isn’t any resolution; the listener is left with the impression that the character is perpetually conflicted about whether to stay or to go, and that the relationship never really moves forward.

I’ve frequently been critical of artists who stray too far from their country roots in pursuit of pop stardom, but “Colder Weather” is a good example of a well-crafted country-pop record. It opens with a gentle piano solo, with some subtle fiddle and steel entering into the mix during the second verse. The production soars just a bit before the bridge, with some percussion and electric guitars, which though prominent, are not ostentatious and overwhelming, in stark contrast to most contemporary country recordings. It’s not a traditional record, but Keith Stegall’s restrained production and the band’s harmonies help to create a fresh sound that should stand out amongst the slickness and blandness of almost everything else on the radio.

“Colder Weather” was written by Zac Brown, Wyatt Durrette, Levi Lowrey, and Coy Bowles. It can be heard here.

Grade: B+