Album Review – Randy Rogers Band “Nothing Shines Like Neon”
It’s like the great unspoken inevitability that the big names of the Texas country and Red Dirt music will never make it in Nashville, though they all invariably feel like they at least need to try. Nashville is amiable as well, because they see the fervor behind these bands, and the sales numbers they put together with nothing more than regional radio support, and they think with just a bit more of a national strategy they could turn them into a gold mine. You can take the musician out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the musician. Like trying to get back with your high school girlfriend, it tends to never work for Texas country artists in Tennessee, no matter the best intentions of the parties.
After four albums for the Universal Music Group in Nashville, the Randy Rogers Band returns to the ranks of independent acts with their seventh overall studio record, Nothing Shines Like Neon. A staple of the Texas country scene since the early 2000’s, the Randy Rogers Band has racked up three top 5 albums over that tenure, and will likely have another one with this new effort, if it doesn’t reach #1. The Randy Rogers Band is arguably the preeminent act in all of Texas country right now.
Nothing Shines Like Neon has all the liquor, beer, bar scenes, and sultry interactions with lovers you might hear on some mainstream country record, except it tells the story from the opposite perspective—the more realistic perspective. It’s where libations aren’t just flowing to party hearty, but to help douse heartbreak. It’s the story of the millions of people who search for love every night in the neon-filled bars all across the country and world, and how despite some happy times, the loneliness and endless search for love can weigh heavy on the heart. Neon also delves deeply into the issues of lovers in the present, and lovers in the past.
Nothing Shines Like Neon, and specifically the title, also pay homage to a specific whiskey-soaked and neon-filled bar in San Marcos, TX called the Cheatham Street Warehouse. The owner of said bar was a man by the name of Kent Finlay, and “nothing shines like neon” is a lyric from one of Kent’s songs. Kent passed away in 2015 after leaving a legacy of helping to launch acts like the Randy Rogers Band, whose very first record from 2000 was Live at Cheatham Street Warehouse.
Along with Kent Finlay coming along for the ride in spirit, so do some other notable names like Jamey Johnson, Alison Krauss, and bluegrass maestro Dan Tyminski. Notables in the songwriting credits include Keith Gattis who writes the opener “San Antone,” and Bobby Rambo whose “Takin’ It As It Comes” was first made famous by Jerry Jeff Walker, who also happens to show up to accompany the Randy Rogers Band on this new version. The whole effort is produced by Buddy Cannon.
Like many of the top names in Texas country, the Randy Rogers Band has built a legacy upon a pragmatic approach to country music, building in some rock and even pop influences to soften the sound and allow crowds to swell. This has earned the band a mixed reputation with some ironclad country fans, and a poor one with others. But Randy Rogers promised this would be a more country effort this time, and he mostly holds to that promise in the finished product. It’s not quite the surprisingly hard country effort that Hold My Beer Vol. 1 was—the side project with Randy’s long-time friend and co-Texas country star Wade Bowen—but Randy’s definitely not reaching for radio play with this one either, unless it’s a station west of the Sabine River.
“San Antone” captures that warm Texas vibe that’s indicative of what makes Texas country so great. The songs “Neon Blues” and “Tequila Eyes” rely on the fiddle to carry the melody, cluing you in to how this is music meant for the dance halls of Texas, not stadium crowds.
But there’s something about Nothing Shines Like Neon that doesn’t allow the album to ever really take off. The majority of the songs find this mid-tempo, soft-textured vibe that’s almost like the Texas country version of adult contemporary or soft rock. Much of the album sounds like music your mother would listen to. Taken individually, most of these songs are fine, but the softness in one song after another begins to get tiring. This is an album that relies on lyrical hooks, but on a few of the songs the hooks don’t catch like they should. There’s also something going on in the mixing or mastering of this record that doesn’t give the album a very brilliant or vibrant feel. Everything is blended a little too well where the instruments and improvising don’t really pop out for you.
Hold My Beer Vol. 1 was one of the best records released in all of 2015 in country music, and was Saving Country Music’s runner up for Album of the Year. Upon its release, there was a bit of concern Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen were blowing some of their best material on something many would consider a secondary project. A song like “Standards” or “El Dorado” is exactly the kind of meaty selection Nothing Shines Like Neon needed to help anchor it.
Neon rallies at the end though with two of the album’s best and most country selections. “Actin’ Crazy” feels more like the right mood, though the songwriting is just okay, like much of the record. “Pour One for the Poor One” might compete for the record’s best along with the opening track “San Antone,” bookending Nothing Shines Like Neon with its greatest efforts.
A fine release by the Randy Rogers Band, and perhaps an improvement from some of the more recent major label albums, Nothing Shines Like Neon will keep the band moving steadily forward, but feels like an album to pick a few good songs from instead of a valiant return to the independent realm with a career-defining record.
1 1/2 of 2 Guns Up (7/10)
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January 18, 2016 @ 8:38 am
I have it a spin yesterday. Very good album by Rogers that may be his best.
January 18, 2016 @ 8:58 am
Really good , fair review. While it does have a few faults, I’m really enjoying this record so far. IMO it’s the best since Burning the Day. It’s refreshing after the last few (which weren’t bad, but were less country). Brady’s fiddle is as prominent on a few songs as it’s been since Rollercoaster. I think Randy can still make his best album, which I wouldn’t have said before Hold My Beer and this new one.
January 18, 2016 @ 9:07 am
I literally just saw this on iTunes this morning and was wondering about it. Fair review, and I don’t really know anything about these guys, but I feel like bands like this get more brownie points now primarily just because of the state mainstream music is in.
I think it’s worthy of note that they have Alison Krauss and Jerry Jeff Walker, Lee Ann Womack etc. on there, but I honestly found it to be a garden-variety product. All in all I like the album cover better than the album.
January 18, 2016 @ 9:28 am
I like it pretty well, but with the San Marcos connection, I wanted to like it as much as I did the Wade Bowen collaboration, and it just doesn’t grab me as much. “Til it Does” (from “Hold My Beer Vol 1”) was one of my favorite country songs of 2015. Even so, more music from Randy Rogers is a welcome listen.
January 18, 2016 @ 9:34 am
With ”Trouble” i think they hit rock bottom. I couldn’t recognize them when i heard ”One more sad song”. I thought it was a new Chris Rea song.
Good to see them back with a good album and good to hear more of Brady’s fiiddle. Along with Randy’s voice , it’s what defines RRB’s sound.
January 18, 2016 @ 9:41 am
I don’t know if I agree with this review. It could be that the Randy Rogers band has just produce so many great albums that it’s hard to compete with his past catalog. I personally think every song on this record is solid! I don’t think I find any fault with it at all. I rank it right up there with anything they’ve done in the past. I love Texas country music, and this is a shining example of it. I give it 4 stars!
January 18, 2016 @ 10:09 am
What fun would it be if we all agreed? In the end it’s just my opinion.
I will agree with you though, the album doesn’t have a bad song on it. I just was hoping for one or two more really good ones to help anchor it.
January 18, 2016 @ 9:48 am
Where is Lee Ann Womack on the album?
January 18, 2016 @ 10:16 am
Sorry, that should have been Alison Krauss. Wires got crossed.
January 18, 2016 @ 10:01 am
it seems like lyrically with this album they didn’t even try. I want to like it, I do, but yeah these songs just can’t hook me.
January 19, 2016 @ 7:32 am
This is some awful shit
Pour one for the poor one is about as lyracly satisfying as the song Pecos Promenade.
I couldn’t imagine sitting through an entire album of this
January 18, 2016 @ 10:12 am
If I was an act in the Traditional Country space, I would damn sure get my album out well ahead of Loretta’s release, or can it until X-mas or so, if not. I really don’t see the need for any other releases. 😉
January 18, 2016 @ 10:13 am
I think I can divide my musical life into Pre-Rollercoaster and Post-Rollercoaster chapters. No music had ever hit me so strongly and I remember keeping that CD in the truck indefinitely without ever tiring of it. I was evangelical about the power and rawness behind Randy and Brady’s one two punch. I think Randy has become more “country” over the years and toned down the hard-edged rockers on his CDs. For instance, Neon doesn’t have a “This Time Around”, “You Could Have Changed My Mind”, “Break Even”, “Didn’t Know You Could”, “Too Late for Goodbye” or “Don’t Deserve You” type track on it. I love the increasingly traditional country leaning tracks on Neon and at some points felt I had been time warped back to the 90s (in a good way). I can see how some long-time fans could complain they’ve lost some of their edge or rawness and I think they might have a case to make. Nevertheless, if Randy wants to keep pumping out fiddle-laden country music with catchy melodies I am going to keep buying CDs and finding time to make it to his shows. I think, looking back through their catalog, Burning the Day probably has the best balance between their edgy origins and a more traditional country sound. Neon might be a close second in my book.
My personal favorite is Actin’ Crazy so far. Very funny and JJ and RR sounds pretty good together.
January 18, 2016 @ 12:07 pm
Yeah, to me it sounds like they tempered Geoffrey Hill’s usually rampant lead (which has been great and characteristic of the rock sound) and allowed the steel, fiddle, and Randy’s raw vocal have more time to shine. As the author indicates, it’s not quite the country record that HMB Vol 1 was, but this is the Randy Rogers Band; not the Randy Rogers side project. I’m really enjoying it.
January 18, 2016 @ 2:42 pm
Good points here. That was kind of my gauge when I heard this new album was coming out and was going to be more “country”. So far I like it, defiantly his best release since Burning the Day and agree that it blends his older and newer styles together. If this is a sign of where RRB is going, I’ll take it.
Is it just me or when listening to this you feel Wade is gonna pop up and start singing. Maybe I listened to HMB to many times. Keep up the good work RRB.
January 18, 2016 @ 11:26 am
I’m wondering how much it costs to hire the Nashville String Machine to do songs with, I think the song “Old Moon New” needed a string section and something tells me they didn’t have the money to pay for it.
Reason why I say that, I have a habit of mixing different songs with different artists because I like to find similarities, for example I like to play Garth’s “Burning Bridges” with Wade Bowen’s “Why Makes Perfect Sense” because I think they’re very similar. Most out of left field I get with that habit is I mix Randy’s “Just a Matter of Time” with a heavy metal ballad called “She Waits” which is recorded by Hal Sparks and Zero 1.
“Old Moon New” I think is very similar to Garth’s “Somewhere Other Than the Night” which is why I think the song needed some strings. Just my two cents on it.
Unpopular opinion time: I know we got some Jerry Jeff Walker fans on here and I respect his contributions to the genre, but I thought the duet they did was just flat and out of place.
January 18, 2016 @ 1:39 pm
I love Jerry Jeff, but he’s a wild ass. His presence lent to the album, but his vocal track didn’t add much.
January 20, 2016 @ 12:49 pm
His vocals on the track were so gruff sounding, I think they missed the mark. I would’ve liked to hear him sound like he used to.
January 18, 2016 @ 12:04 pm
Whatever anyone wants to say about this record, let’s all just thank (whatever higher power you choose) that it’s not “Trouble.” Good lord, that record sucked. Major props to Randy & Co. for not giving us another dose of that.
January 18, 2016 @ 1:54 pm
A couple bad songs on Trouble, some good ones and a great one or two. I think Had To Give That Up Too is one of the great songs on it. Three great writers on it( Jamie Lin Wilson, Savannah Welch, Keith Gattis) and Randy’s vocals/emotion are great.
January 19, 2016 @ 9:46 am
Definitely concur with all of the above, and those are the reasons I had hope for that record even after hearing “Fuzzy”. I’m not sure if it was the production or music that turned me off to it, but I just could never enjoy that record. A couple songs are re-listenable, but outside of those I haven’t touched it since the first listen through.
January 18, 2016 @ 12:51 pm
Bought this over the weekend and on first listen it was instantly my favorite RRB album.
January 18, 2016 @ 4:56 pm
I prefer fantasy to reality, but only when fantasy is well-written.
January 18, 2016 @ 7:41 pm
Never listened to Randy Rogers Band because I wrote them off (along with the myriad of other Firstname Lastname Bands) just because most of them were pop country that thought they were different because they were from Texas. Well, I decided to give this a listen and I’ve decided I like San Antone and Things I Need to Quit, but the rest of it is very bland.
Additionally, I agree with the production being very uninspiring and quiet. They are definitely talented players and I think they need a producer like Dave Cobb, a really good set of songs, and they can get somewhere.
January 19, 2016 @ 5:23 am
I guess most of us agree that RRB is not just a firstname lastname country pop band from Texas but one of the most important groups that define the Texas music scene. And just because David Cobb is a hot name right now, doesn’t mean that everything has to be produced by him to have quality and inspiration.Radney Foster did a very good job at the start of their career.
January 19, 2016 @ 1:42 pm
Solid CD, probabkly just a 1 time listen unklike the Roger Creager CDs that I play over and over.
Frank the Tank
January 19, 2016 @ 4:12 pm
Like others have said, this is a fair review. I like this album: it is very good, but not great. My favourite songs are “San Antone” and “Actin’ Crazy.”
January 19, 2016 @ 6:19 pm
Well I love this album from start to finish. I have been jamming it pretty hard since Friday. Call me crazy but I would rather jam this than most of the folks that are always constantly getting praise on here like Sturgill or Isbell. Not trying to knock them at all because I absolutely love them as well and own just about there entire collections and listen to them regularly. I guess I have just always connected more with these guys music.
January 20, 2016 @ 1:02 pm
I forgot to download it on Friday (pre-ordered a hard copy from Amazon) but I got to it Saturday. I’ve listened to it more times than Isbell’s last release, for sure, and that came out mid-July. I was just incredibly bored by that one but I was a big fan of everything he had ever done prior. I also fully agree with the review of “Nothing Shines Like Neon,” but it might grow on me a bit more.
TX Music Jim
January 22, 2016 @ 10:23 pm
Sounds like RRB to me old school RRB.Fiddle back in it’s prominent spot in the mix and edgier sound with less Polish JJW’S raw vocal to me fits right in to the overall vibe. My favorite track is the title track. I’m a RRB unapologetic homer glad to see them getting their edge back.