There are several albums that came out earlier this year, prior to the existence of Country Exclusive, which definitely deserve discussion–some because they were incredibly awesome, others because they were incredibly awful, and still others, like Zac Brown Band’s latest album, for reasons that can only be explained in a full-length review. On weeks with fewer releases, I will do my best to catch up on albums that I feel especially deserve attention. This album came out on April 20th and is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year.
Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are two amazing artists in their own right. They are two of the biggest names in Texas/red dirt country, and if someone asked me about red dirt, those are the first two names I’d give them. Their putting together a collaboration album is the equivalent of Jason Aldean and Luke Bryan combining their individual bro country arrogance into one glorious album full of dirt roads and bikkinis. So, the correct response to the news that Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are teaming up and naming an album after their “Hold my Beer and Watch This” tours, is to expect Texas country gold. Thankfully, this album delivered.
The album opens with “In the Next Life,” a reflective song about the highs and lows of their careers. The line “I guess what they say is true, all you need is one good friend” pretty much sums up their chemistry and the tone of the album. It’s lighthearted and upbeat, and the instrumentation is great. Next is “I Had my Hopes up High,” an upbeat track about their experiences hitching rides from various people. I hope these were actual experiences. Once again, the instrumentation is great. In fact, let me say this now so I won’t have to repeat it for every song–Instrumentation is one thing that is awesome throughout the whole album, with steel guitar and fiddle and enough rock for this listener. I recognize the technical awesomeness of straight traditional country, but I do like a little rock as well, and that is something that Texas artists seem to blend into their country fflawlessly. If you want to look for “evolution” of the country sound, this album is where to find it.
The album slows down with the heartbreak song, “Till It Does.” I was hooked with the first line, as Wade Bowen sings: “I never told her that I loved her, but I do.” The premise is that the heartache “don’t happen till it does.” It’s such a simple line, but it’s truth. It was a great time to primarily feature Wade, as these types of songs are one of his strengths. Next is “Good Luck With That,” a fun song in which Wade wants to tell off his boss, a “certified SOB” and Randy wants to tell his wife he’s the “man of the house” and can stay out with Wade as long as he wants to. Each tells the other, “Good luck with that.” As I say often in my reviews, this song would be playing on radio right now if radio was country. The next song, “It’s Been a Great Afternoon,” is also “radio ready.” It’s a drinking song in which they have massive hangovers after possibly the night before from “Good Luck With That.” They reflect, “I can’t say we’ve had a good morning, but damn, it’s been a great afternoon.” This is my least favorite song on the album, but it works after “Good Luck With That” and it has grown on me some.
I talked about “Standards” in a rant about Luke Bryan’s comments on outlaw country. From my rant:
“Outlaw country spawned the Texas/red dirt country movement, and that’s where you will find today’s outlaws; they are people like Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers who sing about having “standards” as opposed to making “hits” and are relegated to the Texas Music Chart and Texas and Oklahoma stations willing to play their music.”
“Standards” is about a “record man” trying to pitch them a song about a dirt road, to which their response is, “I don’t have hits, I’ve got standards.” I don’t even need to explain why this is beautiful. “El Dorado” is my favorite song on the album, and is a ballad about a cowboy who is about to die. I love the line, “Better the angels should claim you than the long ride alone.” The song is reflective and peaceful more than sorrowful. Their harmonies really work well in this song, even more than in the rest of the album. “Hangin’ Out in Bars” is another standout song for me about a man who is “hangin’ out in bars” after his woman left him. This song features Randy Rogers more, and it was the perfect time for that, as this song suits his voice excellently.
Next is “Ladybug,” a lighthearted track in which they look for a ladybug or a four-leaf clover to end their bad luck on the farm. It’s the fun version of Jason Aldean’s “Amarillo Sky.” They end the album with an excellent cover of “Reasons to Quit,” which was on Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard’s famous 1983 collaboration Pancho & Lefty. They think about quitting their bad habits but decide the “reasons to quit” don’t outnumber “all the reasons why.”
If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is indeed Texas country gold. I didn’t love every song on it–I loved some and liked the rest–but the great instrumentation all the way through and their chemistry together adds to it and makes it even better. Every song on it is not a standout, but there is literally nothing to complain about with this album, and it is definitely worth a listen. I hope the “Vol. 1” means we will be getting more from these two soon.