So this is my first album review on TexasMusicBlog.com and I think I need to lay a little groundwork. I’m not a professional writer and you’re gonna (or should I say fixin’ to) see a lot Texas grammar and possibly typos in here. You’ll have to deal with it but hopefully I’ll give you some perspective you won’t find from the other guys. Here we go.
Nothing Shines Like Neon is the 10th album from the Randy Rogers Band. The band has been together for 15 years with all it’s original members: Randy Rogers (lead vocals and rhythm guitar), Brady Black (fiddle), Les Lawless (drums), Johnny “Chops” Richardson (bass), and Geoffrey Hill (lead guitar and harmony vocals) are still churning out Texas Country at it’s finest. Also, Todd Stewart (mandolin, fiddle and harmony vocals) looks to have joined the band in an official capacity (he signed my autographed album cover and I got to meet him at last night’s show in Terrell). I’ve been personally asking Randy for this new album for over a year since we hadn’t seen a full album since Trouble back in 2013 but my Twitter pleas fell on silence <sigh>. I’ll forgive though, seeing as we did get the hit single Satellite off of the live Homemade Tamales album. It’s one of my all time favorite RRB tunes and I’ll have to do a post to tell that story at some point.
First Impressions: I love the cover art.
With the title Nothing Shines Like Neon, there is really only one way to do this cover, and it’s this way – with neon blue and purples shedding that distinctive glow on a black wall. It not only makes for a good album cover but it looks great on social media. The insert has a great picture of the guys and you get all the song lyrics. Minor nit on those lyrics, the purple text is next to impossible to read, the neon blue would have worked better. I’m pretty sure Ben Dorcy thinks the entire insert is black, go ask him.
While the album has that distinct RRB sound, it’s very different than anything they’ve done in the past. I guess this isn’t a surprise since this is the first album with Buddy Cannon at the production helm plus these guy just continue evolve as songwriters. While definitely Texas Country, its got a more laid back, blues-y feel to it, as if these guys are comfortable with who they are and not out to prove anything. It just flows and the whole album grows on you with each successive spin. Let’s dissect the tracks:
San Antone – Easily identifiable as an ode to Texas, San Antone is intentionally filled with Texas cliches (it only takes 30 seconds for Frio Street to get mentioned and we all know Texana songs have to mention Frio something, its the law). References to Shiner, dominoes, a nod to Reckless Kelly, Davy Crockett, and the Alamo litter this song that’s perfect for a drive down a Texas highway. Throw in some bluebonnets, a pretty girl and your set. But this isn’t some Pat Green anthem to partying, drinking and Texas debauchery. It’s just a beautiful song and was the first single released for the album.
Rain and the Radio – The blues bar intro and the organ are something this song brings that is new to the RRB sound. Specifically the organ reminded me of a Cody Canada and The Departed tune back when they first started. And finally, almost six minutes into the record, we are treated to a Geoffrey Hill solo. I thought it was weird that I noticed his absence up to this point but then again, the guy is my favorite lead guitarist so I readily admit that I’m biased.
Neon Blues – From the instant this song starts you know it’s a Randy Rogers Band tune. That’s because Brady Black makes his fiddle cry like nobody can in Texas Music (or ANY music for that matter) and Johnny “Chops” Richardson providing a thick bass line, carry the song. As the title suggests, this track is about a heartbroken girl shutting herself off from the herd of cowboys in the bar, trying to drink a memory away. The song works and is a standout on the album. When I first heard the tune I wasn’t so sure about Randy’s unique chorus vocals but it’s a dynamic that makes Neon Blues what it is.
Things I Need to Quit – A song about “New Year’s Resolutions” according to Randy, this song has those gritty lyrics that frequent RRB tunes. Smokin’, drinkin’ and bad women are at the top of his lists of things he needs to exorcise from his life. Good stuff.
Look Out Yonder – A simple and beautiful beautiful song about a good man, featuring Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski. It was written by Bud Lee, whom I’ve never heard of before until I learned he wrote Friends In Low Places. According to this interview the song sat on the shelf for years with nobody cutting it. I’m not sure what took so long.
Tequila Eyes – This song has that sad country feel we know and love from RRB. After 5 shots in, the girl from Neon Blues must get noticed by a guy at the bar. But he isn’t as dumb as the guy from Meet Me Tonight (more on that later). This astute fellow sees the tequila and pain in her eyes and figures he should “run, run, run.” Good move buddy you don’t want to be the rebound guy.
Taking It As It Comes – Randy and the band join Jerry Jeff Walker in remaking his classic jitterbug tune. It’s blazingly fast and pure unadulterated fun. I do have to say though that Jerry really needs to lay of the diet of gravel and booze because he makes Randy’s normally raspy voice sound as smooth as a baby’s butt on ice. Have fun with this one folks and don’t throw your back out tossing your girl in the air on the dance floor.
Old Moon New – A beautiful love song about a guy trying to find that perfect, unique way to tell his girl how much he loves her. It plays like a poem. You hear some crying steel guitar and a short but sweet guitar solo that folds into the song nicely.
Meet Me Tonight – I’m probably the only person who thinks this, but I swear this song is the sequel to One More Goodbye. You know the song whose music video features a beautiful but completely batsh*t crazy girl trashing the place while the guy seems not only cool with it, but sees it as an opportunity take a tumble under the covers one last time. Hate to tell you bud, but she already slashed the sheets and the bed is now underneath your particle board Ikea entertainment center. If Meet Me Tonight is about the same dysfunctional couple, then Dr. Laura needs to be in the video counseling this co-dependent fellow. The crazy ain’t worth it and if you need a refresher course, let me help you out:
With the schooling out of the way, I gotta say the song itself is a really pretty country song. The rhythm guitar drives it and for some reason reminds me of Tequila Sunrise by The Eagles.
Actin’ Crazy – This track features Jamey Johnson (In Color, High Cost of Living, Redneck Side of Me. etc.) alongside Randy singing about how doing dumb stuff all the time doesn’t really help one move forward in life. It’s a typical country song describing friends we’ve all had, especially in college. In College Station I knew people that lived a The Dixie Chicken, skipping class, drinking 24/7 and playing bones then wonder why they were on scholastic probation constantly.
Pour One for The Poor One – Neon caps off with a “cry in your beer” song that Randy has been known to throw down quite a bit. Up until this point it had only been the ladies who were feeling sorry for themselves but that gets rectified here. The song reminds me of an interview where Geoffrey Hill specifically directs Randy to not write anymore songs with “Lonely” or “Goodbye” in them. Those words are absent from this song but I think Randy gerrymandered his way through the subject again. Geoff, I’ll let you handle that.
If you made it this far, I love you. To fully appreciate this album or ANY of RRB music, you have to go see them live. They are amazing and when you come back to the record you appreciate the songs even more than before. I’ve had this album for four days and can say it gets better with every spin. I’m pretty certain tunes like Neon Blues, Tequila Eyes and Things I Need To Quit will be featured at their shows from here on out. Eventually, after some thought fermentation I’ll rank this album along with the others. In the meantime, thanks to RRB for putting out another treasure. Everyone else, go buy it and listen. You won’t be disappointed.