Randy Houser found chart success with his third studio album, 2013's How Country Feels, but even he admits that his last record, 2016's Fired Up wasn't his best work.
“I wasn’t really crazy about the last album. It just didn’t really feel like it was a whole lot of me on it,” he tells Sounds Like Nashville. “I had record label people that would push me into recording certain stuff ... But if the music I’m putting out there doesn’t resonate with me, how in the hell can I expect it to resonate with anybody else?”
So, Houser tells NPR, he paid to record the songs that became his newest project, Magnolia, out of his own pocket, co-producing it with Keith Gattis. He didn't want that interference again -- but in the end, his label went for it.
In a sense, the first of Magnolia's 12 tracks, "No Stone Unturned," summarizes what you'll find there: "I headed up to Memphis on a train / Got sidetracked in the Mississippi rain / Picked up a case of Delta Blues / Then I washed it down with Tennessee booze," Houser sings atop a marching melody. Is it country? Is it blues? No matter -- it's a must-hear.
Magnolia dropped Friday (Jan. 11). Here are five moments that stand out.
Vocals From Lucie Silvas, Guitar From John Osborne + More
Houser called in plenty of friends for this project -- perhaps even more than you'll notice at first glance. While Lucie Silvas' and Hillary Lindsey's vocals elevate "Our Hearts" and "What Whiskey Does," respectively, a deeper look into the album credits reveals additional high-profile guests. In addition to Silvas and Lindsey, both TJ and John Osborne contributed background vocals, as did singer-songwriter Jessi Alexander. John Osborne also plays electric guitar throughout Magnolia, while Paul Franklin helped out with pedal steel parts. And that's to say nothing of the songwriters Houser worked with ...
"Whole Lotta Quit, "No Good Place to Cry" and "New Buzz" Are a Mini-Story
Houser created a movie to accompany his new album, but the fourth, fifth and sixth songs on Magnolia are a tale in and of themselves. "Whole Lotta Quit" finds our protagonist ready to get his party on -- really, if you're not playing this bluesy Houser / Travis Meadows jam on Friday afternoon, you're doing it wrong -- but followed by "No Good Place to Cry," it'll have you thinking that perhaps that party is masking a whole lot of hurt.
"At the time [I Wrote "No Good Place to Cry"], it was really a dark time in my life," Houser tells Taste of Country. "I just went through a breakup and didn't really have a lot going on and was trying to figure things out."
By "New Buzz," Houser's got his groove back ... He's put our emotions through the ringer, though.
"Nothin' on You": Simple, Short and Smart
Clocking in at just under three minutes long, "Nothin' on You" is simple as heck ... but catchy as heck, too. Houser turns each of the three verses into their following choruses using cut-time phrasing -- a smart songwriting move courtesy of the artist, Jaren Johnston and Tony Lane. Good things happen when these three team up.
"What Leavin' Looks Like" Will Rip Your Heart Out
Houser, John Osborne and James Otto just gave us our new favorite tearjerker. The narrator knows his love has found new love, and he's preparing himself for the letdown.
"So come on and make it hurt / Do your best to do your worst / Put me through hell," Houser sings, his voice aching, in the chorus. "It's a story I know all too well / You can't fool me ... I know what leavin' looks like."
Now, where's that box of tissues?
"Mamma Don't Know"
Like we said, good things happen when Houser, Jaren Johnston and Tony Lane get together. "Mamma Don't Know" is a groove from top to bottom: The cowbell and güiro drive the beat, the melody makes you want to dance, and Houser's vocals are on point.
"I see a little bit of devil in them blue eyes," Houser teases. "It's our little secret."