Randy Houser returns with Magnolia, his fifth studio album and first release in nearly three years. One of Houser’s most personal projects to date, the singer co-wrote all 12 tracks and recorded the album on his own terms with co-producer Keith Gattis.
The title is an ode to his home state of Mississippi and the album’s production reflects his musical upbringing in the Magnolia State. While there are obvious hints of blues, country and soul within Magnolia, it’s Houser’s velvety vocals that leave the greatest mark.
Magnolia kicks off with the reflective “No Stone Unturned.” An album favorite of Houser’s, the track was penned with his brother-in-law, Dallas Davidson, and features vivid imagery as a man searches for his path in life. “I can always find one hell of a time / While I’m out here looking for me / No stone unturned / No turn unstoned,” Houser croons.
The sincere “Our Hearts” follows and serves as a statement to those who gossiped about Houser’s early relationship with now wife, Tatiana, who is 18 years his junior. Featuring delicate harmonies from Lucie Silvas, “Our Hearts” gives Houser the final say. “Well some folks think that you can’t fall this hard / But these are our hearts,” he asserts.
While Houser captivates on the love ballads, it’s the heartbreak songs that best showcase his compelling vocals. On lead single, “What Whiskey Does,” the singer laments of drowning his sorrows over alcohol. His heartache is evidenced throughout his deep vocals on this track as well as the poignant breakup song “What Leaving Looks Like.” The pain is felt again on every note he sings within the stirring “No Good Place to Cry,” a song he penned more than 10 years ago.
On Magnolia, Houser went for a more stripped down approach with less production, which allows the heart and lyrics within each song to shine. While the love songs and heartbreak ballads highlight his vocals, tracks like the swampy “Whole Lotta Quit” demonstrate his Mississippi swagger. With a driving beat, striking harmonica and riveting guitar parts, Houser sings of the working man blues so effortlessly the listener almost forgets that isn’t his career path.
Highlights on Magnolia include nearly six-minute barn burner “High Time” as well as the Brothers Osborne assisted “New Buzz.” With backing vocals from TJ Osborne and guitar support from John Osborne, the memorable “New Buzz” would make for a fun radio single. Meanwhile the swampy “Mama Don’t Know,” co-written by Houser, The Cadillac Three’s Jaren Johnston and Tony Lane, begs to be danced to. With ear-grabbing slide guitar, Houser’s powerful belt and a heart-pounding rhythm section, “Mama Don’t Know” will surely stand out in the live setting.
While it has been nearly three years since Houser’s last release, the singer proves his staying power with the versatile Magnolia. A songwriter himself, Houser poured much of his life into the project making for one of his most vulnerable albums to date. With hints of Mississippi blues and distinct country swagger, Magnolia further cements why Houser is deemed one of country music’s most esteemed vocalists.