After releasing two albums over the last five years that have met with moderate success, Randy Houser is poised to take things to the next level with his third release, How Country Feels. How far it will take him remains to be seen, since the album itself presents mixture of brilliant moments and missed opportunities.
It’s a good sign for Houser that the title track is currently topping country radio airplay charts, proving to be his most successful single to date. It’s also a good sign that “How Country Feels” is definitely not the only radio-friendly tune on the track list. In fact, I have a feeling that DJs and fans alike are going to love the easy-rockin’ vibe of the opening track “Runnin’ Outta Moonlight,” the meaningful mid-tempo tune “Like a Cowboy,” and the ballad “The Singer,” possibly the most powerful track on the record. There is even a duet with Kristy Lee Cook, “Wherever Love Goes,” that might gain a bit of traction—but it doesn’t quite hold up to recent power duets like the Aldean/Clarkson “Don’t You Wanna Stay” and the Paisley/Underwood “Remind Me.” Regardless, these tunes and a few others are among the brilliant moments I mentioned earlier.
As for the missed opportunities? Some of these are a bit subtle, others more glaring. “The Singer,” while potentially a huge hit for Houser, is a bit loud in production value for a ballad, which detracts from the song a bit—though perhaps not enough to keep it from being a standout. One of the bigger distractions, though, is the inconsistent lyricism. On some of the songs (including the ones I’ve already mentioned), the lyrics are passionate, easy-flowing, and highly believable. On other songs, though, the lyrics are exactly the opposite—weak and trite, almost like someone engaged “B-team” of writers to fill out the track list. These tunes are most prevalent toward the end of the record, on songs like “Let’s Not Let It” and “Goodnight Kiss,” which borrow way too much from the themes of other current hits. (We’ve got quite enough songs about conversations with girls in our pickup trucks, thankyouverymuch.)
But that’s not the worst of it. “Sunshine On the Line” feels like a throw-away lyric serving as an excuse to play an out-of-genre rock guitar riff—and “Absolutely Nothing” is exactly what the title indicates. (The “hook” is “I wrote a song about absolutely nothing,” if that tells you something.) Most of it is aimless rambling over two chords, and the gimmick of including popular brand names in the lyrics doesn’t help its case at all. On a 15-song track list, it just wasn’t necessary to interrupt the flow with this song—let alone put it in the middle. You might as well take a picture of someone’s face and photoshop a zit on the person’s nose. It’s just about that noticeable.
So that’s the mixed bag of How Country Feels. The reality is that with his emotive style and powerful vocals, Randy Houser has the potential to be a country superstar right up there with Blake Shelton or Brad Paisley—and that potential shows up on the more brilliant moments on the record. The problem is that there are also these other issues mucking up the works. While I have no doubt this will be Houser’s most successful record so far, I think it could have been much more so. This is an album that will make a lot of country fans glad we live in a day when it is possible to download individual tracks.
And that, in fact, might just be the record’s salvation.