Album Review – Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen “Hold My Beer Vol. 2”

If Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen are the Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean of Texas country as some purists love to accuse, then when they join forces, they become like the Gene Watson and Mark Chesnutt—meaning as hard thumping country as you can find.

The two long-time music buddies caught us off guard and flat footed the first time in 2015 when they launched their original volume under the “Hold My Beer” pseudonym, surprising us with the level of country-ness, the quality of the songs, and the bits of comedy. Started as a simple annual acoustic tour in Texas, now we know this side project isn’t just a spitball, it’s Randy and Wade’s enthusiastic and impassioned opportunity to dive head first into the influences of classic country and offer their own contributions towards those time-honored traditions.

Where their first effort was a little more offbeat and irregular, but in a cool sort of way, after seeing the positive reception it garnered, Randy and Wade took this second go ’round a bit more seriously, working to write and find better songs, and tighten up the production. This results in probably a better produced project by the numbers, even if this means it loses some of its coolness. But it still results in classic country goodness from two important names.

Hold My Beer Vol. 2 is like a love letter to classic country from a Texas perspective. In many respects, it’s a country music album about country music. “Rhinestoned” is a song about being brought up on classic country. “Let Merle Be Merle” subtly lashes out at the incursion of rock influences in country. “Speak To Me Jukebox” lists off a litany of old classic country songs, and “This Ain’t My Town” is about how the ever-changing world is constantly robbing us of what was precious about the past, country music included.

Along the way though, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen don’t forget to have some fun. After all, that’s the underlying reason for this project. The hilariously-written “Rodeo Clown” is a backbone of the record, just like “Standards” was for the first volume. “AM/FM” and “Hold My Beer” bookmark the project with fun-loving moments.

If there is a third and fourth silent partner in the Hold My Beer franchise, it’s writers Jon Randall and Jim Beavers, who do a big amount of the co-writing with Randy and Wade on the record, while a pretty impressive all-star list of contributors also make their way into the credits, including Dean Dillon, Lori McKenna, Josh Abbott, Chris DuBois, and Buddy Cannon to name some (see writing credits).

One of the centerpieces of the project is “Ode To Ben Dorcy (Lovey’s Song)” about the ‘King of the Roadies‘. The song was written originally by Waylon Jennings, who just like Willie Nelson and many others, enjoyed the services of Dorcy over the years. Ben became a big help to Randy Rogers and others in the newer generation of Texas artists as well. Not only is it cool to hear the mighty Waylon sing a few bars (however brief), the song really helps you connect the dots of the Texas music lineage.

Not to compare Randy and Wade to Willie and Waylon, but these two really are doing what they can to make and maintain Texas as a viable and growing market and enclave for music performers so they don’t have to test their luck with Nashville. Randy and Wade are significantly responsible for Texas emerging as a healthier alternative with its own radio networks, touring circuits, and legions of fans.

But despite their best efforts at fielding songs for this project, Hold My Beer Vol. 2 has some holes in that respect. “Mi Amigo” with Asleep at the Wheel is a super cool collaboration, but the writing is pretty elementary, and your typical gringo song trying to find some culture. A few tweaks, and the otherwise strongly traditional “AM/FM”could be a Bro-Country song, even if the extended instrumentation on the tail end saves it here. And “Warm Beer” was a better idea when Tom Waits did it back in the early 70’s. The album lacks that one deep song to really tie it together.

But there are still a host of really good songs on Hold My Beer Vol. 2, and all the studio renditions, instrumentation, and production on the record is superb throughout, and spot-on with trying to keep things country with a renewed vigor, which is what this project is all about. Overall, the record is just a good time.

Some may bemoan why these two don’t bring more of these pure country influences to their respective solo projects. But now with a second strong country record under their belt together, Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen have left their mark on the legacy of what great country music from Texas is all about, while helping to preserve traditions and pay them forward to a new generation.

1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)

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