From a certain angle, Randy Houser's career tells the story of country music in the early years of the 21st century. Houser first made an impression as a Nashville songwriter in the mid-2000s, scoring a big hit when Trace Adkins recorded his "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" in 2005, a success the Mississippi native parlayed into a recording contract in 2008. Over the next half-decade, he slowly climbed his way into the Country Top Ten, earning Country Airplay number ones with 2012's "How Country Feels" and 2013's "Runnin' Outta Moonlight," songs that felt right at home with that era's amiable bro-country even if they didn't quite adhere to the party-hearty aesthetic. As he eased into his middle age at the close of the 2010s, he whittled away the shinier aspects of his music, emphasizing the soul and hardcore country at its core — an evolution that crystalized on 2019's Magnolia —
a shift that mirrored the rise of such throwback traditionalists as Chris Stapleton. Throughout it all, Houser maintained his own identity, holding tight to his heart and humor.
Born and raised in Lake, Mississippi, a small town east of Jackson, Houser was the son of a musician and took to music himself at an early age. Picking up the guitar before his tenth birthday, he played in bands throughout his adolescence, sharpening his songwriting skills as he attended East Central Community College in Decatur, Mississippi. While at college, he fronted a band called 10lb. Biscuit but left them behind in 2002 to pursue his dreams in Nashville.
Shortly after settling in the Music City, Houser landed a publishing deal. His first big hit came in 2005, when Trace Adkins took "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" — a song Houser co-wrote with fellow neo-rebel Jamey Johnson and Dallas Davidson — all the way to number two on Billboard's Hot Country Songs. Houser's next hit as a songwriter arrived when he co-wrote "Back That Thing Up" for Justin Moore in 2008, a year that also marked the appearance of Anything Goes, Houser's debut album. Released on Universal South Records, the album went to 21 on Billboard's Country charts, with its second single, "Boots On," reaching number two in 2009. They Call Me Cadillac, Houser's second album for Universal South, struggled to produce a hit — "Whistlin' Dixie," its first single, peaked at 31, with a "A Man Like Me" reaching 53 — and he soon parted ways with the label.
Signing with the indie Stoney Creek Records, Houser released How Country Feels in January of 2013. How Country Feels turned out to be his commercial peak as a recording artist. Its title track, which was released ahead of the album, reached number one on Billboard's Country Airplay, as did its successor "Runnin' Outta Moonlight." Its other two singles — "Goodnight Kiss" and "Like a Cowboy" — reached two and three, respectively. Flush with this success, Houser toured as Luke Bryan's opening act in 2015, the same year he released "We Went," a teaser for his fourth album. "We Went" also topped Billboard's Country Airplay chart, but its accompanying album, Fired Up, didn't replicate the success of its predecessor; although it debuted at three on the Country Albums chart, its subsequent single, "Song Number 7," didn't crack the Top 40.
Houser refashioned his music to something stark and rootsy for Magnolia, a 2019 album that was accompanied by a fictional feature film based on the record's songs. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine