Randy Houser

Anything Goes

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Like many professional Nashville songwriters, Randy Houser -- a co-author of Trace Adkins' career-defining smash "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" -- was given a crack at a career as a performer based on the strength of his songs and, like many other songsmiths turned singers, he has to sing other people's tunes on his 2008 debut, Anything Goes. One of those professionally written songs is the title track, a clear ploy to ease Houser onto the tight playlists of commercial radio, and it's as fine as far as the formula goes: melodic and tightly constructed, but not quite memorable. The same could be said for Houser's soft, everyman voice, which is pleasing enough but not quite memorable, at least when he's paired with these written-to-order songs -- and that can include songs that Houser penned himself, especially his melodramatic ballads, which veer toward the maudlin no matter if he's singing about god or lovers. Apart from the irritating Big & Rich-aping affectations of "Strange," Houser is better when the tempo either kicks up or lays back -- when things get looser, he shows some personality. He gets funny on the sly "Lie," grinds out a workingman's blues on "Paycheck Man," and strikes a terrific mellow jazzy groove on "How Many Times," the only one of these three written by another author (in this case, the great Al Anderson). These songs show Hauser's range and his easygoing appeal, and it's just a shame that there aren't a few more of them on this too professional debut.

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