So much fuss is being made out of Texas at the moment about Parker McCollum with his chiseled chin, and Koe Wetzel with his ribald attitude. But Randall King is the guy from the recent class of Texas country artists signed to major label deals that is the true, real deal, straight ahead country artist, full stop. He’s arguably more country, and more squared away even than Cody Johnson. And perhaps that’s part of Randall King’s problem. Like George Strait, there’s nothing especially flashy about him. He not a conversation starter, necessarily. But just like George Strait, Randall King has the promise to put together a career that over the long run, is more legendary and important than most.
When you heard that Warner Music Nashville was releasing a four-song EP from Randall King as opposed to a legitimate, full-length debut album on the label, you wanted to roll your eyes. How many times have we seen Music Row monkey with the careers of guys with established fan bases—especially ones from Texas—thinking they need some incremental, baby step development plan as opposed to giving them an opportunity with a big album to really blow the doors off the public. They pulled this same gambit with Parker McCollum recently, releasing his Hollywood Gold EP as opposed to a proper album.
But this Randall King EP is a bit of a different animal. It’s one of those rare occasions where an EP goes from from less than ideal, to just about perfect from the way it encapsulates a moment or a mood that may be diluted in a longer work. And the fact that Warner Music Nashville was willing to work with Randall King to make all of this come about renders it that much more unique, and cool.
Randall King’s older sister Leanna died on April 19th, 2020 at the age of 32. A mother of two and a tireless supporter of Randall King’s career, it left the young country crooner completely heartbroken and searching for answers. Randall was finally receiving his due in his career, and then he gets hit with this personal tragedy. Like so many artists do after an earth-shattering moment, Randall turned to putting his emotions to music, and the result is this 4-song EP that was released in mid December.
If nothing else, Leanna underscores, capitalizes, and punctuates that we’re still not raising nearly a big enough stink about the importance of Randall King to revitalizing the roots of country music, and that any concern about Randall’s music going through some sort of monumental sea change now that he’s on a major label is entirely groundless.
None of that is what Leanna is about though. The opening song “Takin’ It As It Comes” first released back in November is all about putting one foot in front of the other, understanding there will be setbacks, regrets, missteps, and that you can’t control everything. The words and sound fit Randall King like a glove in a song that would have shot up the charts if it was released 30 years ago.
“Hey Moon” is just the kind of silly, sappy, sentimental and corny stuff that country music needs way more of. One of the things that is great about this Leanna EP is that none of the songs are exclusively about Randall King’s sister, but they all seem to be about her in some unspoken way. “Around Forever” is about the passing of time, and how you better appreciate things when they’re around, because tomorrow, they may not be.
Randall King finishes the short set with his slow-paced traditional country rendition of the Gospel standard “I’ll Fly Away.” Saying an artist makes a cover or standard song “their own” is about as cliche as you can get. But it’s the only fair way to remark about what Randall King does here, with the accompanying video calling upon the memory of Leanna, symbolized by a yellow rose of Texas that also adorns this EP’s cover.
The reason EPs are often treated as also-rans in any artist’s discography is because they rarely raise a significant enough blip with the public to remain in the long-term consciousness. Leanna may suffer the same fate, as hopefully a proper full-length album from Randall King is on the way that will create such a racket, it’s all we’re talking about. But whether the songs of Leanna eventually feed into a bigger album or remain forever and always this encapsulation of tender emotions captured in time, it’s a little gem of traditional country music, and a proper tribute to a dear loved one.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)