Randy Rogers Band – Homecoming
An automatic on Texas radio, Randy’s recent release was with Wade Bowen, his fellow automatic. Now back with his band and with Radney Foster behind the board, this eighth album provides new and long-time fans with 11 new tunes.
Randy’s voice is in the same ballpark as that of Lee Brice, with both grit and tenderness on opening ballad I Won’t Give Up (‘I would fight the fires of hell and the Devil himself’). His lady is on the Leaving Side of Town, ‘fooling around’ and breaking his heart. The double-stopped fiddle part matches the tenor of the lyric, with the arrangement full of pathos and warmth.
Heart For Just One Team opens with piano and fiddle before Randy’s vocal comes in to describe watching a ballgame with his dad: ‘no church and no chores!!’ feels like the most innocent line on the album. I think you can tell where the narrative is going but grab some tissues and call your own dad if you can.
Big writers have queued up to work with one of the stars of the Red Dirt movement. Jon Randall was there for Nothing But Love Songs, whose expansive opening introduces a midtempo rocker about a narrator ‘hoping to hear a midnight crier’ to get over a breakup. It took 11 weeks to top the chart, a stunningly quick climb. Drew Kennedy, a Wade Bowen collaborator, helped with the Texas chart-topper Picture Frames, a toe-tapper with the reminiscin’-via-photos motif and a philosophical theme about time passing (‘where do the years go’). The middle eight is excellent.
Sean McConnell was in the room for Over You Blues, a triple-time lament that is 100% Texas. The narrator is a bar-dwelling schlub who can’t even tip the band for playing a song that reminds him of his ex. While Nashville keeps targeting the 18-34 demographic with sexy guys singing about trucks, this is adult country music tinged with regret and sadness. True country, some would call it.
The three A-Listers Randy Montana, Lee Thomas Miller and Wendell Mobley give him Fast Car, a series of pick-up lines which Randy’s narrator uses to entice a lady. If the fiddle were replaced by a second thwacking great electric guitar part, it’d be a Jason Aldean song thanks to its farmer’s chords (a phrase I learned about recently which has finally made it into a piece of criticism!).
Randy also wrote the melancholic rocker Small Town Girl Goodbye (‘she outshined our one stoplight and now there’s one less number on that city limit sign’) and Where’d You Run Off To. Randy’s protégé Parker McCollum was in the room for another song about a man missing his ex (‘why’d you have to take my heart?’), while Jack Ingram joined the hang on Know That By Now, another self-lacerating weepie which begins with Randy’s narrator complaining that ‘I can’t have one drink without having four’.
The album ends with Bottle of Mine, written with producer Radney. It’s a neat summary of the Red Dirt genre: Randy addresses his drink over a slow musical shuffle, begging it to ‘stay here with me cos I can’t live with myself’. It’s anthemic and the best song on a very good album.
David Adam Byrnes – Keep Up With A Cowgirl
David is another big name on the Red Dirt scene. His songs are often chart-toppers on Texas radio and his first album Neon Town got caught up in the pandemic.
The first few bars of the opening title track are saturated with fiddle. It’s a Texan version of those Music Row songs about how great a girl is, but with more panache, charm and musicality. Instantly we know where we are: the Red Dirt, once again.
I Find A Reason is a George Strait-y ballad set in a bar. Our ‘hard-headed narrator…heading where I’m headed’ cannot get over his former belle. A Shot or Two keeps David drinking to ‘break this heartbreak mood’, while Better Love Next Time is full of melancholy, governed by its fiddle part and how ‘you and me just don’t mix…c’est la vie’.
One Honky Tonk Town is a more uptempo breakup song (‘she locked the door and I backed down the drive’) where our poor narrator’s ex is ‘parked in my favourite spot’ at the bar. This town ain’t big enough for the both of them, because it’s the Smallest Town On Earth, as per the title of another track on the album.
Too Much Texas was another radio smash. The protagonist is a girl who tries to head out of Dallas but can’t take the Texas out of her heart. Like I’m Elvis is set in a Kentucky hotel room where the musician is missing his woman who ‘treats me like I just might be the King’. All I’m Missing, with a delicious few bars of pedal steel, is David’s plea for a lady to join him in paradise. Accidents has the best lyric on the album; it’s a songwriter’s round tune about the serendipity of life and how ‘accidents don’t just happen’ randomly.
Past My Bud Time is a phenomenal title; it’s not ‘bedtime’ but Bud Time!! It opens with David playing a working man who has to work overtime; the chorus rhymes ‘cutie/koozie’. Then he gets a flat tyre and, worst of all, his partner has taken the last beer from the fridge!! More happily, he gets off on time and celebrates on Cold Beer Time.
The album has four solo acoustic tracks tacked on to the end, including one that didn’t make the cut on the album proper. Everything That Glitters Is Not Gold is an imagistic narrative song where David reminisces over his ex and how she ‘used to ride in your rhinestones’. It’s a modern-day version of the poetic ‘song to a closed door’ where the narrator does not expect any reply, especially with ‘little Kacey’ missing her mum and asking where she is.
If David can afford to leave songs like this off an album, he must be a prolific songwriter. A future Texas Radio Hall of Famer who might follow Parker, Randall and CoJo into Nashville, should the opportunity arise. Otherwise he can be an Aaron Watson or Randy Rogers figure, content to sing songs to Texans for decades to come.