Album Review – Randy Houser’s ‘Magnolia’

Returning to your roots. This statement is the embodiment of Randy Houser’s new album Magnolia. Like many artists in Nashville, Houser got sucked in by the corporate, generic sounds of radio country and things were going pretty good when radio was playing his songs. But when you live by the radio hit, you fall by the radio hit too. Houser fell pretty hard on his last album, as it was bloated, forgettable and had zero hits. So after a somewhat lengthy hiatus, Houser re-emerged and promised a return to what made people fans of him in the first place. For the most part, Magnolia lives up to this promise and throws a few wrinkles in too.

“No Stone Unturned” is the perfect opening track for this album, as it’s a summation of Houser’s journey as an artist: going to Nashville with a dream, getting lost along the way and then getting back to why he makes music. It’s a declarative and redemptive song from Houser. He follows with another good song in “Our Hearts,” a meditative love ballad with Lucie Silvas. I particularly enjoy the slowly building tempo that reaches a crescendo with the strings in the bridge.

The lead single “What Whiskey Does” is a song I’ve enjoyed since release, as it’s a bluesy and smoky jam contrasted with some starkly somber lyrics. Speaking of jams, “Whole Lotta Quit” is a damn fun song. It’s catchy and guaranteed to get your feet moving. The song is drenched in harmonica, which is honey to my ears. Country music needs more working class, honky tonk anthems like this song.

Perhaps the best moment for Houser on this album is “No Good Place to Cry.” This song is pure, blue-eyed soul from Houser, as he belts the absolute shit out of it. It’s a raw and powerful vocal performance that reminds us of the great pipes Houser possesses. I wouldn’t complain at all if Houser decided to cut an entire blues album because he has the chops to pull it off. It’s a shame he doesn’t let this side out more often.

The second half of Magnolia isn’t quite as strong as the first half, as it has a lot of issues for me. Your mileage will vary with a song like “New Buzz.” I find it really catchy and fun, but at the same time I can see how it gets old real quick for some listeners. It also reminds me of something the Brothers Osborne would sing (this isn’t necessarily a good thing). “Nothin’ On You” and “Running Man” are okay songs and I probably won’t remember them.

“What Leaving Looks Like” is another great vocal performance from Houser and captures the feeling you’re looking for in a heartbreak song, but it feels like it largely treads on territory that’s already been covered on the album. “High Time” is two minutes too long, as you can’t get away with such a repetitive song for nearly six minutes and expect me to enjoy it. “Mama Don’t Know” is my least favorite track, as it quickly annoyed me after a few listens. It’s corny and tries too hard to be clever and fun, especially with the weird crack in Houser’s voice in the chorus.

The closing track “Evangeline” ends the album on a strong note. The song is about a man taking his woman on a strolling tour throughout landmarks in the south. He does this to show where he comes from and the roots of who he is as a person. It’s a breezy, easy-going song that puts an appropriate bow on the album, going back to where it all begins.

Magnolia is a step in the right direction for Randy Houser. There are many enjoyable tracks throughout and shows off some of his best strengths as an artist. This album though also suffers from having repetitive themes, a lack of memorable lyrics throughout and has some songs that just aren’t necessary. This isn’t the best work Houser is capable of producing, but it’s a great building block for his next album. I hope Houser builds on the best aspects and delivers a great follow-up to Magnolia.

Grade: 6/10

Best Songs: No Good Place to Cry, Whole Lotta Quit, No Stone Unturned, What Whiskey Does, Evangeline


Producers: Randy Houser & Keith Gattis

Songwriters: Randy Houser, Dallas Davidson, Kylie Sackley, Rob Hatch, Keith Gattis, Hillary Lindsey, Travis Meadows, Gary Nicholson, Jeff Trott, Jaren Johnston, Tony Lane, John Osborne, James Otto, Brice Long, Jeffrey Steele

Review – Billy Currington’s “Bring It On Over”

It feels like Billy Currington has been one of the longest tenured artists in the mainstream country scene without anyone noticing. His last album Summer Forever came out in 2015, but it feels much longer. At the time it felt like it didn’t sell well, but looking back his numbers for that album were better than most of the new artists being pushed by radio nowadays. He also had a true hit with that album in the solid heartbreak song “It Don’t Hurt Like It Used To.” Currington now makes his return with new single “Bring It On Over.” Much to my welcome surprise, Currington decides to dip his toes into disco country. It’s an instantly infectious song that also incorporates electronic influences that remind me of Tyminski’s album released last year. Many will complain that the lyrics aren’t deep, but they aren’t trying to be. This is a catchy sex jam that isn’t trying to be anything more than it, so it accomplishes what it sets out to do. With the parade of non-catchy and boring ballads being released as singles in country music nowadays, this is a breath of fresh air. If you’re looking for something that’s fun, catchy and a little different from the rest, “Bring It On Over” has this in spades.

Grade: 7/10

Songwriters: Rhett Akins, Dallas Davidson, Ben Hayslip & Jesse Frasure