Hold My Beer and Watch This, Vol. 1 was one of the most critically-acclaimed country albums of 2015. Two of Texas’ biggest talents combined for wild success, as the duet album between Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers documented a friendship and brought something new to the genre.
It seems Rogers has taken that collaborative spirit and run with it on his band’s new album, Nothing Shines Like Neon.
Neon is the band’s first album on the Thirty Tigers label. Produced by Buddy Cannon, it has more twang than the band’s last album, Trouble. But it’s not exactly a “return to form” album, either. It feels a lot like a renewal for the group after being dropped from Mercury Records in 2013.
You can clearly hear the combined influence of Trouble’s “Fuzzy”, Burning the Day’s “Damn the Rain” and other previous albums on the record. As Rogers put it in an interview, “It sounds like country, but not our granddad’s country.”
There’s plenty of new originals to go around, including “San Antone”, a nostalgic tribute to Texas and an ode to the region that made them famous. “Neon Blues” is a great addition to the band’s repertoire of barroom songs with fantastic fiddle playing (see also: “Interstate”, “I’ve Been Looking For You So Long”). And “Rain and the Radio” is one of the most sonically diverse songs the band has ever recorded.
The three highlights of the album, though, are when the band shares the stage with some of the acts that have influenced them over the years.
“Look Out Yonder”, featuring Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski, is the first collaboration on the album. Written by Earl Bud Lee years ago, “Yonder” sounded like a perfect fit for a duet with Krauss when album producer Buddy Cannon first heard it. It’s a slow, contemplative look at the life of a touring musician, and Krauss’ soft vocals accompany it perfectly.
A few tracks later, the Jerry Jeff Walker cover “Takin’ It As It Comes” is sung alongside none other than Walker himself. The Randy Rogers Band’s version is just as raucous as the original. Hearing Walker accompanied by the band gives the record a playful energy three-fourths of the way in. It’s destined to be a live favorite when they go on tour.
And finally, second-to-last track “Actin’ Crazy” featuring Jamey Johnson, has more than a little bit of the Johnson outlaw influence on it. It’s all steel guitars and drums and fiddles, and functions as a sort of bookend to the trilogy of collaborations on Neon. If “Yonder” is about the constant pangs of traveling and “Takin’ It As It Comes” is about the constant day-in and day-out hustle of playing shows, “Crazy” is about how to let loose while dealing with the touring gypsy lifestyle.
All of that is fitting, since the Randy Rogers Band has been constantly touring since 2002 and shows no sign of stopping. Nothing Shines Like Neon is a tribute to the road, and it’s a great addition to the band’s canon. There’s a lot to love here, but it’s the shared collaborations that shine the most.