Well, it’s about time. I had hoped for Randall King’s major label debut album to arrive ever since he signed with Warner Music Nashville in 2019. And if you had asked me then, I would have thought he’d be the Texas country artist to storm the mainstream and possibly usher in a neotraditional revival … only, it’s now three years later, and both Cody Johnson and Parker McCollum beat him to the punch, albeit without the strong neotraditional flair.
And considering I covered King’s loosely scattershot single releases and eventual EP from 2020 here, here, here and here, this album feels it’s coming far too late, especially seeing as how it’s carried by those singles and a good chunk of that EP – a practice I’m never fond of. Then again, listening through Shot Glass, I’m glad the older material is here, because if the path to get the album felt like a long time coming, the new material itself feels oddly rushed in a way that makes the album feel like it’s lacking the creative spark to really bust open the door further.
Granted, if you like and know the neotraditional country sound, you know what to expect here: electric guitars balanced with acoustics, a bit of bar piano and pedal steel with a good bass presence – a little smoother than I’d prefer but overall not sterile – and warm fiddle, albeit a little less than I’d prefer here. It’s familiar and easy to digest, and in terms of melodic grooves and hooks, it’s solid enough. But it does feel pretty overall conventional in what’s going for on the newer tracks, which is a shame, because when the album does take some slight chances, I’m usually on board. I still adore the atmospheric minor swell running through the low end of “Hey Cowgirl” for an added bit of mystique, and between the brittle acoustics and gentle mandolin accenting “Middle of Nowhere Church,” I was reminded in a good way of, say, Josh Turner.
And really, I’ll take the smoother side of this album gladly, especially seeing as how it complements King himself as a vocalist – the artist who I think has a more credible claim to sounding like George Strait than Easton Corbin. Which is to say that, he’s not quite convincing as a charismatic hell-raiser – which is why barn-burners like “Record High” and “Hard Way To Make It Rain” fell kind of flat for me – and I don’t think he’s got the loose, affable charm to make some of the sillier jokes in “Roger, Miller Lite and Me” work that effectively. But starting with “Middle of Nowhere Church,” the album adopts a surprisingly religious tone that can inspire faith and optimism in its reflection without coming across as preachy. Of course, it’s also where I say that most of the tracks to support that sub-arc come from his Leanna EP, meaning that it’s not quite as cohesive or indicative of the entire project as I’d like. The build-up is still nice, though, especially when “Around Forever” feels lived-in and tempered in taking a moment to reflect, and when the title track is just a fantastic slow burn indicative of the classic country heartbreak tradition that bleeds into “I’ll Fly Away” – absolutely a great closer here.
But now I’m just wondering where “Hey Moon” is if we’re going to go down this route, especially when a lack of lyrical heft or details is my main gripe with the writing on the first half of this project. “Baby Do,” “You In a Honky Tonk,” and “Can’t You Feel How That Sounds” are pretty interchangeable as is, let alone with each other as song ideas. And that’s why despite sporting some great tracks, Shot Glass feels pretty underwhelming as a whole, as if the ideas just aren’t there for something more and the weight of the pandemic was both the best and worst possible thing for this project. It’s still decent enough if you’re a sucker for the sound like I am, but otherwise, I’d stick with the last few tracks and move on.
- Favorite tracks: “Shot Glass,” “Around Forever,” “I’ll Fly Away,” “Middle of Nowhere Church,” “Hey Cowgirl”
- Least favorite track: “Can’t You Feel How That Sounds”