Release Date: April 30, 2013
Seven or eight years ago, Randy Rogers was the heir apparent to Pat Green’s throne as king of Texas/Red Dirt country (with Stoney LaRue and Cross Canadian Ragweed close at his heels). Now, it’s not really my scene these days, but from what I can tell there’s not much of a kingdom to speak of anymore. All that I see is a bunch of little roadhouse fiefdoms lorded over by “First Name Last Name Band” of the Week every Friday and Saturday night. Pat went “Nashville”, we all graduated from college, and it seems like a lot of these guys couldn’t sell enough records to sustain their careers. (Oddly it seems that country music is one of the last frontiers to not embrace the social media based, long-tail, independent career plan.)
One of the difficulties here is to make music that is radio-ready and mass consumable, while staying true to the honesty of the genre. At its core, this should be “3 chords and the truth”, bucket of Shiner Bock on the back porch music. Outlawin’, Drinkin’, and Gettin’ Your Heart Broke. Where the latest entries from RRB have failed is in over-production that has tried to make the music all things to all people. As I listen, I find myself trying to strip away everything and hear the songs as they were probably written: on an acoustic guitar by itself. When you start making a band out of that, it becomes a delicate balance of enhancing the song versus impressing the potential listener. Randy Rogers Band shines when Randy is front and center and fiddle-player Brady Black is leading the way for supplemental sounds. When ad hoc pianos, steel guitars and electrics start trying to leave their mark, things run aground quickly.
The albums starts out way over-produced, as expected. The songs aren’t bad, mind you. It’s just hard to get to the meat of them. “Fuzzy” was released on iTunes a few months back and drew a slew of negative reviews. It’s an unusual sound for the band, but the song is fun/funny and in the end, it succeeds even as a departure from what we may expect from Randy and company. “Speak of the Devil” has a modern Nashville sensibility to the production, but the Texas style still shines through.
“Trouble Knows My Name“, a duet with the great Willie Nelson is a fun idea, but fails to connect for some reason. (Solo acoustic versions on YouTube prove the song a winner.) Another victim of over-production is the big lead single, “One More Sad Song“.
In my opinion, the last three tracks bring it back to the old days, each from a different perspective. “Had to Give That Up Too” (video at top) is near-perfection, propelled forward on the aforementioned greatness of Brady Black’s fiddle. “Shotgun” is an example of the right way to utilize the full band. Randy’s voice is fully on display in all of its raspy (im)perfection on “Never Got Around to That“, the song that Bruno Mars wishes “When I Was Your Man” was.
On the whole, that album is worth a listen, it just tries too hard to do too much. It doesn’t lack the heart of his earlier work, it just is harder to find. Give me all these songs recorded live at a show and I think we would have a winner.
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