How Randy Houser Is Putting the Voice Back in Country
Since Chris Stapleton stole the CMA Awards in November with his breakout performance, country music is slowly shifting its focus not only to a more traditional sound, but back to actual singing. Which makes this new Era of the Vocalist particularly good for Randy Houser. If Stapleton is the booming, outlaw voice of country’s resurgence, Houser is his equally soulful but smoother country-radio counterpart.
With four Number One singles under his belt, Houser is finally hitting his stride. But it took a long three-album journey to get there. His 2008 debut Anything Goes made a dent with its magnificent title track, a lonesome tale of a one-night-stand, and the Number Two hit “Boots On.” But Houser’s 2010 follow-up They Call Me Cadillac was largely neglected, a blow to the Lake, Mississippi, native, who believed he made an album — a bluesy roadhouse record full of swamp-rockers and vulnerable ballads — that reflected his true self.
Regrouping in 2013 on a new label, Stoney Creek Records, Houser altered his approach. He wrote less, cut more outside songs and courted radio with accessible sing-along anthems like “How Country Feels.” The title of his third album, the song became his first Number One.
“It’s given me a job,” says Houser of How Country Feels. He’s seated at the bar at Brown’s Diner, a Nashville come-as-you-are beer-and-burger joint, sipping a Bud draft. “Before that I was making my living as a songwriter. I had plenty to do, but that last album moved things in another direction for me. That’s part of the reason that it was three years to the next album. It gave us a reason to be so busy that I didn’t have time to get started on another record.”
Just last week, Houser celebrated his fourth chart-topper, “We Went.” Another blast of radio country with a car-chase tempo, it’s the debut single off Fired Up, his new album that combines the grit of They Call Me Cadillac with the pop sheen of How Country Feels. Although wildly overloaded with 17 songs (taking bang-for-your-buck to the extreme), Fired Up gives Houser ample room to show off his elastic voice.
On “Hot Beer and Cold Women,” written by fellow Mississippian Travis Meadows and the Warren Brothers, Houser conjures the magic of “Anything Goes” and “Like a Cowboy,” a 2015 CMA Song of the Year nominee. “Little Bit Older” mines the same working-for-the-man theme as Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It” and boasts a boozy, payoff chorus. And new single “Song Number 7” is tailor-made for Houser’s summer tour opening for Dierks Bentley.
“He’s one of my favorite country singers of all time. He’s so good and so believable when he sings. He has all the moves with his voice: he can curl it, straighten it out and growl,” says Bentley, who also sees the comparison between Houser and Stapleton. “He and Chris have unique differences, but Randy has that soulful thing going on too. There’s a lot of similarities.”
When Stapleton released Traveller in 2015, a collection of stripped-down, voice-forward country songs, Houser was immediately transfixed. (In fact, Houser cut a Stapleton song, “One Way,” for Fired Up.)
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