Hold My Beer Vol. 2 sports a few low points its predecessor didn’t have, but the tight focus and fun banter between Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen keeps it a fun listen regardless.
I wasn’t sure we’d get a second Hold My Beer album from Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen.
Yes, it’s a statement on time; Hold My Beer Vol. 1 did come out over five years ago, after all. But the two artists always promised listeners an eventual sequel, hence why my statement focuses more on intent and scope. The first volume was a happy mistake for them, emanating from their collaborative acoustic tours and a mere result of what the two could slap together to satiate fans wishing for a project between them (which, at least to me, turned out pretty great). Even as Bowen released 2018’s Solid Ground and Rogers, under his Randy Rogers Band moniker, released a few scattered projects over the years, one always had to wonder just when that sequel would come. And when one considers how that aforementioned first volume was about two Texas artists commiserating over their respective experiences trying to make it in Nashville and slugging it back home, it begs the question – how would they make that album again?
The obvious answer is they wouldn’t, focusing more on pure camaraderie and a looser narrative for an all around lighter, arguably more fun sequel. Though, even with that in mind and a more careful planning behind this project, it begs the million dollar question – is Hold My Beer Vol. 2 better than Vol. 1? Truthfully, no; it’s lacking a real knockout song like “Standards” or “El Dorado” to elevate it to the next level, and there are a few more inconsistencies and low points I’ll address later. With that said, it’s also hard not to hear how much care and consideration went into this, both in terms of what story the two artists are willing to tell this time around, and in terms of the chosen sonic palette to reflect said story.
On that note, those who enjoyed what they heard on the first project will like what its sequel has to offer. Unlike their solo projects – which both lack a real heft in their production for the type of heavier country-rock sound they’re aiming for – Bowen and Rogers just know how to make their classic country palette work. It’s not a sound aiming to push the genre forward by any means, but it’s always refreshing to hear melodies anchored by rich fiddle pickups and firm acoustic and bass lines that sound this excellent. Sure, the chord progressions get a bit too conventional and familiar for this brand of country music, but considering the actual intent, it’s largely forgivable (and even welcome). It’s a point that’s reflected more in the lyrical content, but it’s an album about honoring musical heroes; hence why they bring in Asleep For The Wheel for a great western swing number on “Mi Amigo” while resurrecting an unrecorded Waylon Jennings song in “Ode To Ben Dorcy (Lovey’s Song),” a song about a famous roadie who, despite the many years between them, was still considered a friend to Bowen and Rogers. Songs like “AM/FM” and the title track aren’t exactly looking to inspire intelligence, mind you, but I enjoyed the lazier groove of the former track – especially with that outro – and the rollicking electric guitar driving the latter track for some old school rock ‘n’ roll flavor.
Of course, it’s also a country album for people who, you know, like country music, so when the smooth George Strait-esque, pedal steel and fiddle-driven melodies of “Rhinestoned” and “Rodeo Clown” kick in, it all blends in excellently. It helps that both artists have always had a haggard quality to their deliveries. They don’t offer much in the way of charisma, but they make up for it with the banter and camaraderie between them that just sounds like two old friends having fun. But they also blend in a bit too seamlessly at points, hence why the harmonies on “Warm Beer” sound sharp in an unflattering way. If I were to further nitpick, it’d be that, while together they sound like two raspy veterans who’ve probably had a bit too much to drink and are having fun with that, the moments that don’t call on that interplay can sound a bit forced and stiff. Not that lyrics are the main selling point of this project anyway, but when they sound a bit too serious about wanting “a hot little pistol in the shotgun seat” on “AM/FM,” any attempt it had at being pure escapism just sort of sounds like a bad take on bro-country.
And since that’s a nice segue into the album subject matter, what this album lacks in a true standout cut more than makes up for it in pure tone and consistency. These two guys have long since shaken those Nashville blues; they’re now focused on showing their appreciation to musical legends and influences. They actually make “Speak To Me Jukebox” – a song mostly constructed from famous song titles – work surprisingly well, if only because the titles used help to provide great transitions and progressions for the “story” at hand. And when both artists opt for something similar in “Rhinestoned,” the references made feel earned.
It’s more than just fleeting references and fun collaborations with Asleep at the Wheel and the Jennings family, though. If “Standards” featured both artists laughing at the Nashville establishment, “This Ain’t My Town” is setting them up for something similar … only this song is about the decay of Austin, Texas and its musical heritage, and here the tone is more bitter and sad. There’s now two towns they don’t feel they belong in, and unlike the former example, there is something sad about watching a piece of history you were a part of just fall to ruin, especially for the wrong reasons. On a lightweight album, this, ironically, is my favorite cut.
The thematic arc is of a looser variety, though, and while it leads to cool cuts in “Mi Amigo” and the other aforementioned tracks, we also get “Let Merle Be Merle,” which tries to evoke the preachier sentimentalities of old Merle Haggard cuts like “My Own Kind Of Hat” and “Are The Good Times Really Over,” but forgets how neither of those songs hold up well in the modern era as his best work. Sure, the entire point is to show how that kind of language is outdated while offering a jab at country music trying to be anything other than what it is, but it also comes with awkward lines that you’ll know when you hear them; the fact that the intentions are likely much less serious is the only reason I’m not offering a deeper examination.
What is worth a deeper examination is “Her,” a lightweight, breezy country ballad where the soft piano and percussion blend well together, but also a song that tries to frame one man stealing another man’s girlfriend as romantic. Silly as it may try to be, it’s never a good look; especially with an ending line offering advice essentially suggesting that men can’t bring their lady folks out if they don’t want them getting stolen away (and yes, here I am questioning the intentions behind the sentiment). It’d be one thing if either Bowen or Rogers played the role of the other guy in that situation to try and hammer in on the comedic aspects, but otherwise it’s a poor track.
Not to say there isn’t some great interplay between these two, however. The fact that there’s interplay at all puts them leagues ahead of most country groups these days, and when, again, both artists offer their respective ramshackled personalities, it’s believable when they want to act like Merle Haggard and George Jones on “Habits.” And the title track probably offers the greatest example of two artists looking to cut loose and really live for the music. But I’ll also say that, for as excellently written as “Rodeo Clown” is, there’s a part of me that wishes one of them played the role of the titular character instead of just the supporting friend. A bit of a missed opportunity, but also a minor nitpick for a great song.
That’s also a good way to describe Hold My Beer Vol. 2 – a rough-edged, fun country project that is far from perfect, but also is more layered that it will likely receive credit for. Again, I wish it ended stronger, even if the title track is a great way to cap it off. But it’s also an album where most of the faults are forgivable, meaning that most of the time it’s just a rollicking, easy to enjoy country album crafted by veterans of the scene who respect the institution. Like with the recent Hot Country Knights project, the real test will be if it can last beyond the initial high and slightly corny jokes into the remainder of the year, but for now, Hold My Beer Vol. 2 was certainly worth the wait.
(Very light 8/10)
- Favorite tracks: “This Ain’t My Town,” “Speak To Me Jukebox,” “Ode To Ben Dorcy (Lovey’s Song),” “Rhinestoned,” “Rodeo Clown”
- Least favorite track: “Her”