17 of '19: Randy Houser's "Magnolia"

This is the third of a 19 part list of my favorite things about 2019. There are books and movies and artists and albums and places and experiences. Making the list has been a helpful way of looking back and taking stock of my year. I’m sure I’ve forgotten some important items. No doubt in 20 years I’ll look back at several things on the list and ask, “Huh?” But this is an attempt at this moment in time to remember…

For me, 2019 was a year for music. After spending several years listening to pretty much the same Jason Isbell and Don Williams albums, I experienced a renaissance of new artists. Around half this year-end list is music, and the vast majority of it is occupied by female artists. It was the Year of the Woman in Country and Americana music, and I dove right in.

One album not from a female singer that had been crossing my eyes throughout the year, though, was Randy Houser’s Magnolia. Country Music bloggers and YouTubers would mention it in passing as the most underrated album of the year. I didn’t care to listen, because Randy Houser is a name I have associated, probably unfairly, with the Bro-Country phenomenon of the past decade. What I didn’t know, however, was that he walked away from that world, calling his manager in the middle of a tour and telling him to get rid of the trucks with the lights and the production equipment. He stripped the sound down and just made music.

A result was the album “Magnolia,” which has just about everything I love about roots music: Guitars, witty turns of phrases (Well there aint no grass gonna grow up under my feet/No tellin where I might be/I can always find one hell of a time/When I’m out here lookin for me/ No stone unturned/No turn unstoned,) and a balance of darkness and light. There’s a modern day “Take This Job and Shove It” in “Whole Lotta Quit” (I got a whole lotta quit in me/A lot of don’t give a shit in me/The clock’s about to hit 4:20/And I’ll be smoking in a red hot minute,) and more than a few Christ Stapleton-esque wailers like “What Whiskey Does” and “What Leaving Looks Like.”

It appears that the album was overlooked in all the major upcoming awards categories, so you probably won’t see much more about it. It was a hidden gem of 2019, and I’m glad I found it.

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