These Texan songwriters are a musical match made in country heaven.
“Well don’t get me wrong, I wanna hear my songs on country radio / But it’s gotta feel right standin’ here singing them at the show / I don’t have hits, I’ve got standards ” sing Randy Rogers and Wade Bowen on “Standards” — a wiseass ode to artistic integrity on their recent duet album Hold My Beer, Vol. 1.
This couplet is a pretty decent descriptor of the whole record. Its ballads are propelled by fiddles and steel guitar rather than cliches and tight-fitting Levis. Rogers (frontman of the Randy Rogers Band) and Bowen both grew up on Texas soil and have carved their careers out of respecting their elders. One of their primary ways of doing so is the time-honored tradition of the chorus punchline, present on almost every track.
But they still put their own spin on things – many of these songs subtly refresh narratives that have run amok in the genre over the decades. Old standbys like dumb bosses and tequila hangovers are given smart, sharp rewrites – maybe telling off the guy who provides your paycheck isn’t the best idea, and hair of the dog is pretty effective if you can stomach it. On “Lady Bug”, they pray that the Lord DOES will the creek to rise, because soggy crops are better than none at all.
They don’t stray too far from the music they were raised on. The twangy picking on “Good Luck With That” recalls Chet Atkins and his Red Dirt-colored guitar; “Reasons To Quit” has a horse clopping rhythm borrowed straight from Red Headed Stranger, underpinning lonesome tails of the struggle for sobriety; and “‘Til It Does” sounds like a loose mix between Gary Allan and Sturgill Simpson. These songs would fit in more with the late 90s/early 2000s crowd (imagine a collab between Randy Travis and Travis Tritt, and you’re in the ballpark), rather than today’s pop and hip-hop saturated ones. In other words, these are true-blue country songs, uncompromisingly honest about their authors’ faults and failings.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a whole lot of cornfed swagger present. Opener “In My Next Life” is a reminiscent look back at the highs and lows of musical success and the self-assurance that comes with being comfortable in your own skin. “Standards” similarly takes an individualistic stand on what selling out truly costs, and “El Dorado” is the ballad of a practical cowboy who doesn’t see the use in chasing a dream with such little ROI. Rogers and Bowen are relatively young, but Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 has them up to an old man’s tricks. They take responsibility for dissolutions of relationships they didn’t put enough into – and hopefully learn from it the next time around. They’re contemplative and thankful for the time they have. They’re proud of the men they’ve become, and hope their fathers are, too. Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 is a country fan’s country record.
Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers
Hold My Beer, Vol. 1 – Lil Buddy Tunes