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

Album Review – The Wild Feathers’ ‘Greetings from the Neon Frontier’

This sounds a lot like the Eagles. That’s what I imagine The Wild Feathers hear a lot when someone first comes upon their music. While this is a tiring and obvious observation, it’s hard not to compare this country rock band to bands like the Eagles, Poco, Gram Parsons and Pure Prairie League who rose to prominence during the early 1970s. But don’t get hung up on the past, as these guys bring a modern take to a classic sound. The Wild Feathers are Taylor Burns, Ricky Young, Joel King and Ben Dumas and together they make the kind of melodic, guitar-driven music that quite frankly is missing a lot in today’s music. On their new album Greetings From The Neon Frontier, they deliver a warm and breezy sound that takes you away and makes you wish would come back.

The album greets you with the anthemic “Quittin’ Time.” It’s a thumping and head-banging rocker that perfectly sets the tone for the album and has you singing along by the end of the first listen. “Wildfire” is a song that immediately stands out on the album. It’s an easy-going, mellow song that you want to play when driving down a seaside highway. Its carefree tone immediately endears you. The harmonies from The Wild Feathers are fantastically infectious and appropriately the centerpiece of the song. “Stand By You” is a song about togetherness and standing alongside the one you love through thick and thin. It’s a simple love song that avoids the pitfalls of being too saccharine or paint-by-the-numbers, but at the same time it’s missing something to make it emotionally stand out better.

One of the clear strengths of The Wild Feathers is their sound, as they clearly know who they are and what their strength is as a band. I think “No Man’s Land” is a great demonstration of it. It’s about wanting to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and getting away to the peace and quiet of the countryside. Now this theme is nothing new, but it’s the instrumentation that gives this song a liveliness that sticks with you. Particularly the jam-y outro of the song with the extended guitar solos really gives it a punch. The fiddle-driven “Two Broken Hearts” is the quietest moment on the album. The song is about the heartbreak of a failed relationship and the regret of letting a special love slip, as the line “And I’ll always regret never buying you that ring” alludes. The production of this song does a great job conveying the heartache, as the slow and tender fiddles paints the picture of a man drinking in the dark over lost love. It’s a pretty good song, although sonically it doesn’t fit the rest of the album.

The B-side of this album might be one of the strongest I’ve heard all year. While this album is great throughout, it’s the second half of this album that really show The Wild Feathers at their best. Nostalgia and reflection are the topic of “Golden Days.” It’s about not truly enjoying and appreciating what you have in front of you until it’s gone. The song puts you in mind of the end of a long summer full of memories, but realizing you’ll never get them back. It’s a happy and sad feeling all at once.

“Big Sky” has the same quality of breeziness about it as “Wildfire.” It’s the perfect summer driving music with its hazy, atmospheric guitars playing throughout. “Wide open spaces/Cool mountain breezes/Reaching down to save my soul/Take these city blues away” really do take you away to that very scene in your mind. It’s really important on atmosphere-based songs (and albums) to establish that scene in the listener’s head; otherwise the words don’t connect with you. And as The Wild Feathers demonstrate throughout this album, they are quite good at this. The harmonies really shine again on “Hold Onto Love.” It’s about a long and loving relationship that has plenty of rocky moments, but it’s the resolve and strength of love that carries them through the hardships. Sometimes you’re just holding onto each other for dear life and it’s these moments where you realize how important it is to have each other. This is a song that relies on heart to reach you and I think everything in this song works together well to accomplish it.

“Every Morning I Quit Drinkin’” is about not being able to give up the sins of drinking and partying. While the party is fun at night, the regret in the morning is even worse (I imagine the hangover is too). It’s a broken solution to a never-ending heartache. The ominous outro of the song adds to the emotions of the song, with the hazy instrumentation putting you in mind of someone lying on the floor after a night of drinking. The album closes with the upbeat and fun “Daybreaker (Into The Great Unknown).” It’s a mantra to life on the road, living life to the fullest and always chasing your passion. The rocking energy of this song makes it a great closer that not only ends the album with a bang, but also makes you want to revisit it all over again.

The Wild Feathers impress me with their brand of country rock on Greetings From The Neon Frontier. This band has a tight, cohesive sound that borrows from the late 70s era of country rock while also sounding fresh and modern-day. What this band absolutely excels at is their ability to paint a picture in your head with their music. Their lyrics are descriptive, engaging and cleverly composed while the instrumentation compliments the words well and add to the scene of the song. Their others strength is their soaring harmonies, which they shouldn’t be afraid to let shine more. Greetings From The Neon Frontier is a memorably fun album of country-flavored rock and roll that can be enjoyed both quietly and at full volume.

Grade: 8/10

Album’s Top Highlights: Wildfire, Big Sky, Hold Onto Love, Every Morning I Quit Drinkin’, Daybreaker (Into The Great Unknown), No Man’s Land


Producer: Jay Joyce

Songwriters: Ricky Young, Taylor Burns, Joel King, Jeffrey Steele, Kevin Douglas, Bill McCorvey, Allen Sostrin