Randy Rogers Band

Randy Rogers Band

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On its second major-label studio offering, and its sixth overall, Texas' Randy Rogers Band enlists veteran songwriter Radney Foster as producer and tries to capitalize on 2006's Just a Matter of Time, an album that climbed to number eight on the Billboard country chart and opened up touring venues to the group nationwide. While Rogers and company have plenty in common with most contemporary country acts -- big electric guitars, subtly shaded acoustic ones, clipped, compressed drum sounds, the use of a Hammond B-3 -- they are different in one considerable respect: Brady Black's fiddle. It is the most natural use of a fiddle in straight-up country outside of Alison Krauss', and it's used as far more than a textural element here; it's part of the group's root sound. The other thing that sets them apart is they are obviously from Texas. Rogers is obviously enamored with Steve Earle, to the degree that his phrasing and dragging vowel sounds almost ape his model. But unlike Earle, Rogers is hardly a signature songwriter. His "Better Than I Ought to Be" is an obvious mirror image -- albeit one more trite -- of Earle's "I Ain't Ever Satisfied." Rogers gets help from some of Nashville's finest, such as George Ducas, Stephony Smith, and Sean McConnell, and even Foster in forming this rootsy, faux gritty mix for the charts. The problem is that these songs don't stand out either melodically or lyrically from anything else that's out there, with a couple of exceptions -- both of them written by bassist Jon Richardson, who understands this band's hard country roots better than its frontman. Check the opener "Wicked Ways." Even with its phase-shifted guitars it comes off as far more high and lonesome than anything else here thanks to his scripting in Black's wailing fiddle in the intro and on the refrains and bridge. It's reminiscent of Charlie Daniels' Uneasy Rider period. Lyrically, it is outcast country at its best in the current era. Likewise, his other entry here, "When the Circus Leaves Town" written with Clint Ingersoll, is full of a Fender Rhodes piano, enormously distorted guitars, and a lyric line that offers desolation and a mercurial self-directed rage that is so picaresque it better becomes a video. Despite the relative generic approach of much of this record, its sense of craft is studied and tight and will no doubt resonate with fans of contemporary country. Foster's production is clean and dynamic, and edgy enough to get it noticed from the morass of albums deluging Nashville right now, and the band's live reputation should garner them enough sales to carry them through to record another day.

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