After scoring a breakout radio hit with his 2009 single, “Boots On,” it seemed as if big-voiced Mississippi native Randy Houser might fall victim to some ill-timed record label consolidation. Though immensely talented and critically acclaimed, Randy had trouble connecting with follow-up singles like the hard stomping, “Whistlin’ Dixie,” or the gentle ballad, “In God’s Time.” However, in 2011, Randy found a new home with Stoney Creek Records (home of duo Thompson Square), tightened up his sound and released what appears to be a career defining single in preparation of a new project due in stores January 22.
The current Top 10 hit and album title-track, “How Country Feels,” is a 3-minute blast of soulful crossover country. Working with fellow Magnolia State native, producer Derek George, the sound here is much more polished than Randy’s earlier efforts. However, with a clean backdrop, Randy’s voice is firmly in the spotlight – and wow can this guy sing. With a bluesy drawl that sounds something like a soul man’s Ronnie Dunn, Randy takes over How Country Feels with a powerful voice that demands attention.
From the loose opening notes of “Runnin’ Outta Midnight,” through the dynamic melodic shifts of the acoustic based “Top of the World,” and high up into the bends of the power ballad, “Wherever Love Goes” (a duet with label mate Kristy Lee Cook), Randy shows off a voice that can do it all. I’m not here for forever / I’m here for the here and now, he sings with a delicate vibrato on the bluesy “Along for the Ride,” making the most of every opportunity. On “Goodnight Kiss,” his easy rhythm over an odd 8/8-time signature further demonstrates the technical chops Randy possesses. And the fact he’s able to nestle such subtly complex shifts into a pop-laced love song drives home the notion that this is one of the genre’s best voices.
How Country Feels does have a more radio friendly, pop-influenced sound than Randy’s earlier works. However, the heart and soul of the collection lies in a series of songs that may not be destined for radio fandom. On “The Singer” and “Power of a Song,” two traditional tracks sitting side-by-side, Randy poignantly describes different takes on a man and the music he creates. She loved the singer, she just couldn’t live the song, he sings on the former, giving an insightful and embattled voice to a wife’s heartache. On the rising, “Power of a Song,” however, Randy shows that the music can often be bigger than the man that makes it. The album’s closing song might be its best. The rolling autobiographical, “Route 3 Box 250 D,” is pained with tales of a hard upbringing. When he took to drinkin’, he’d take it out on us, Randy sings with a heavy voice as the honesty cuts like a knife.
Randy does include a couple of hard country tunes reminiscent of the aforementioned, “Whistlin’ Dixie,” but “Sunshine on the Line” and the bootlegger tale, “Shine,” fit nicely into the collection to offer a different sound. And to make sure there are some lighter moments, the good-timin’ “Absolutely Nothing” and the summer song “Growin’ Younger” come across with a sunny grin.
Randy uses the project to take listeners on a journey where honesty rings true. Songs about love, hardship and life come with a powerful voice that is comfortable moving through parts of the genre that span Western (the epic, “Like A Cowboy”) to pop (“Let’s Not Let It”). On an outstanding collection where changing scenery makes for a wonderful trip, Randy lets it be known exactly How Country Feels on his best album yet.
Key Tracks – “Route 3 Box 250 D,” “How Country Feels,” “The Singer,” “Along for the Ride”