Following the excellent 2015 collaboration with Wade Bowen, Hold my Beer, Volume 1, Randy Rogers is back with his band for Nothing Shines Like Neon. This album marks the return of the Randy Rogers Band to Texas after some albums in Nashville, and it was preceeded with news that it would be an album of traditional country, complete with appearances by Alison Krauss and Jerry Jeff Walker. Well, the album is available today, and I can safely say it lived up to its expectations, and it is the first great album of 2016.
The album opens with “San Antone,” a nice ode to Texas that celebrates coming back after their years away. Songs about Texas are common in Texas country, but this one stands out after the band’s years in Nashville and works perfectly. It is a fitting opener for the album, and right away I can see that the promise of traditional country rings true. Fiddle, steel, and acoustic guitar are prominent here, and will continue to be throughout the album. “Rain and the Radio” is a catchy, upbeat song about a couple enjoying being with each other when the power is out. They don’t need anything but the rain and the radio; this doesn’t stand out as one of the best songs on the album, but it is a song that gets better with each listen and earns its place quietly. “Neon Blues,” the album’s first single, is a classic song about a woman in a bar drinking away the pain of a past relationship. Much like “Rain and the Radio,” this one is catchy and gets better with each listen. It is unclear here whether the narrator is the one who hurt her, the bartender, or just someone in the bar, but he has observed this woman and is advising someone else not to waste his time pursuing her. It was certainly a good single choice.
“Things I Need to Quit” sees a man listing all the habits he needs to rid himself of: alcohol, cigarettes, but most importantly, the woman who has him in this position. Randy Rogers sings of a girl who is getting dressed and waiting for a cab–“she looks a lot like you, ain’t that a shame. Girl, I’m all messed up, and you’re to blame.” It’s a very honest and relatable song that will connect with many. “Look Out Yonder” is one of the best songs on the album. Featuring Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski, it tells the story from a brother’s point of view, as he looks out at the road and sees his wayward brother finally coming home, guitar strapped to his back. The instrumentation, lyrics, and harmonies blend beautifully in this song, and it is really one that you should hear. “Tequila Eyes” sees the narrator seeking out his friend, who is trying to find comfort in a bar. Apparently this is quite unlike her, and this narrator is broken, trying to tell her that tequila won’t hide the pain. Randy Rogers delivers the emotion in this song wonderfully, and the fiddle in this song is excellent. After the rawness of “Tequila Eyes” comes the expertly placed “Taking it as it Comes.” This is one of the most fun moments on the album, and the fiddles and rock guitars on this song remind me of a Turnpike Troubadours track. Jerry Jeff Walker is featured here, and basically this song is just about taking life as it comes and not letting life get to you; it’s just a fun song.
“Old Moon New” is probably the best song on Nothing Shines Like Neon. Here, a man sings about writing a woman clichéd love letters and giving her eleven roses “just to shake it up.” He says he knows that “there’s nothing new under that old moon” but “girl, you make that old moon new.” It’s a beautiful song and stands out in contrast to all the songs about back roads and moonlight we’ve been hearing from mainstream country music. “Meet Me Tonight” is another standout on this album; it reminds me of an earlier Randy Rogers Band song, “One More Goodbye.” Here, a man is asking an old love to meet up with him one last time; he knows it won’t last, but he still misses her. The Randy Rogers Band really seem to have a knack for capturing the emotion in these types of songs, and I think this is one that while having the unfortunate placement after “Old Moon New” will surpass it in quality with more listens.
“Actin’ Crazy” is an instant personal favorite. If “Old Moon New” is the best serious song, this song is the most witty. Featuring Jamey Johnson–has Jamey Johnson ever lent his voice to a bad song?–this song tells the story of a man writing a letter back home to Texas, presumably from L.A. or some other city. This man is living a life that is “one chaotic wreck” and knows he is getting nowhere. Some of my favorite lyrics are present here, among them “these folks make me proud to be from Texas” and “the rent’s as high as Willie.” This song also makes me ready for that Jamey Johnson album we’ve been hearing about forever. The album closes with “Pour one for the Poor One,” your classic country song about a man drinking away his troubles after his woman has left him. They promised traditional country, and this song is a perfect way to close an album of such music.
Overall, this is a truly enjoyable album. The Randy Rogers Band balance serious and fun songs well, and the light and dark material combine to make this an album that is not only critically great, but listenable and relatable as well. They promised an album of traditional country, and that is what this album delivers. Nothing Shines Like Neon is a great start to 2016 for country music.