Randy Houser

Fired Up

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Randy Houser may remain on independent label Stoney Creek for 2016's Fired Up, but that doesn't stop him from swinging for the fences. If anything, this album possesses a bigger, bolder sound than its 2013 predecessor, How Country Feels. Houser isn't afraid to gloss "Chasing Down a Good Time" with analog synths and drum machines, nor is he reluctant to give the verses of "Mine Tonight" a light, nimble rhythm that feels at odds with the singer's meat-and-potatoes persona, but he pulls it off because neither the performance nor the production feels like pandering. One of Houser's strengths is that he never pushes too hard, but he nevertheless pushes. He'll slyly incorporate some trends into his productions -- here, it's a bright, beat-heavy electronic tapestry reminiscent of Luke Bryan -- but it's just enough to freshen a sound that remains rooted in muscular, masculine modern country. Such contemporary sensibility happily undercuts a slight tendency for nostalgia -- there are enough songs about being a "Little Bit Older," "Yesterday's Whiskey," and high-school memories -- while his fondness for a well-constructed song keeps this sturdy and sensible. If there is any fault in Fired Up, it's that it's a little bit too much of a good thing, particularly on its 17-track deluxe edition, but on a track-for-track basis, the record is always appealing.

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