Album Review: Randy Houser – They Call Me Cadillac

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With Randy Houser’s second album, They Call Me Cadillac, the Lake, MS, native takes a huge step towards fulfilling the promise hinted at in his debut and its gem of a title single, “Anything Goes.” Swimming upstream against current Nashville trends, Houser embraces the soulfulness, the whine, the stomp and the drawl of all things country and honky tonk.

A good songwriter knows that humor and pain can coexist in the same song and, thankfully, Houser subscribes to that line of reasoning. Opening track “Lowdown and Lonesome”positively wallows in misery in all the best ways. Wit, self-deprecation, resignation..what more could you ask for in a honky tonkin’ rocker?

The title track is even better, injecting the cocksureness of Dwight Yoakam into a Brooks and Dunn two-stepper. “They Call Me Cadillac” is a winning lark that suggests this co-writer of “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” has plenty of self-awareness about the absurdity of such claims to his high standing among party cohorts and females alike.

Just when it seems the album can’t get any better, Houser delivers one of the finest country songs of 2010 in the woeful “Addicted.” Sounding every bit like a track stolen from Jamey Johnson’s monster The Guitar Song, it equates love to an intoxicant and lost love to withdrawal. Despite this well-trod thematic path, Randy’s vocals ache with desperation, and the backing organ drones like a hangover—every note dripping with regret and longing.

There’s hardly a drop-off for the remainder of They Call Me Cadillac. “Will I Always Be This Way” is an emotional early-30s inventory of life and love in the face of friends settling down for their piece of happily ever after, while “Somewhere South of Memphis” is a bluesy revelation, Houser singing the verses nearly a’capella, with just a hint of acoustic guitar, giving an unflinching look at his affection for the soul of the Mississippi Delta.

It’s this pattern of brave moves—laying bare raw feelings, letting his rich voice be the lead instrument—along with an abundance of well-written songs, that makes the album an anomaly in contemporary country music. They Call Me Cadillac is more about showing us who Randy Houser is than it is about providing three or four singles that country radio can slide into its format.

Unfortunately, there is some compromise with convention that weighs down the collection in the middle goings. Randy tosses off “Out Here in the Country” and “Whistling Dixie,” a couple of country pride songs—probably in the name of commerce, as he once admitted of some of his singles on in the comments of a review published at The 9513—that are not redeemed by his growling rural authenticity.

These missteps aren’t enough to knock more than a star off this welcome oasis of neo-traditional country. They Call Me Cadillac is a great companion to Jamey Johnson’s already-mentioned epic release, rocking a little harder but with just as much yin and yang balance.

While it’s probably unlikely at this point that releases like this can push the needle in the traditional direction on mainstream country’s dial, it’s encouraging to see young artists courageous enough to eschew pop country’s slickness and adherence to formula.

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