The Endless Music Odyssey, Vol. 1: Hot Country Knights, Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers, and more

The Hot Country Knights deliver even more than I expected with their debut album The K is Silent. You can spend a lot of time analyzing all of the puns and hilarious references (some time will be spent on this of course). But in my opinion the best thing to sum up about this album can be found in the music video for the lead single of this album, “Pick Her Up.” In this clear parody of bro country (as well as 90s country too), the video opens with the modern country male concert goer in his flannel shirt and vest. It’s a little detail, but it struck me because of it’s accuracy because this is literally how the vast majority of guys I see at concerts dress. At The Cadillac Three concert I attended back in February (what will highly likely be my one and only show in 2020), pretty much every dude at show looked like the guy in the music video.

Now to why I point this out and to me it’s symbolism for modern country. Every thing looks and sounds the same just like the listeners who consume it. I don’t mean this as a shot at these listeners or anybody at all, nor did Dierks Bentley and his band mean to make this some sort of symbolism. But for myself I couldn’t help but make the connection. I just found it fascinating how so much of popular modern music makes things so cookie cutter to the point even the listener is a cardboard cutout. It shows the cascading effect art and culture can have on people. As the saying goes, you are what you eat.

Back to the Hot Country Knights and the video, they give the guy a 90s makeover (or 80s?) and set him up with a souped up truck to impress his date. It’s completely corny, out of style and yet brimming so much with the personality that lacks in country music today. It doesn’t feel like calculated marketing and it’s just being itself, which easier said than done in today’s world. Yes, this album goes on to point out how even 90s country was formulaic in it’s approach and relied on copy and paste imagery for songs. But it was fun and didn’t take itself so seriously, yet it could also find balance with serious songs occasionally too. It felt natural and had an accessibility about it that could resonate with the average person because it didn’t try so hard to be cool or appeal to certain demographics. Of course I will fully admit too that nostalgia makes me see things slightly through rose-colored glasses. But it’s the fun-loving spirit of this album that resonates mostly with me and how it’s not afraid to go “out there” and be a little weird and kooky.

The features on this album are perfect with Travis Tritt and Terri Clark each shining brightly in their roles. “Asphalt” is non-stop chuckles with it’s non-stop ass-based references (and another hilarious music video). “Moose Knuckle Shuffle” actually makes me want to dance and do the Moose Knuckle Shuffle while also doing a perfect parody of the line-dancing phase of the 90s. The highlight of the album for me though has to be “Then It Rained.” At first I was like wait a minute this is familiar and then I realized it was a dead-on take of Garth Brooks’ “The Thunder Rolls” and I absolutely lost it. It’s quite “Seinfeldian” as my friend Zack at The Musical Divide perfectly puts it, with it’s take on the average boring moment followed by rain. This type of humor is right up my alley. The best line is “I ordered up a hot dog and a glass of chardonnay/Somewhere I thought I heard George Strait/And then it rained.” It’s just so randomly hilarious!

The album’s title track rhymes whiskey with whiskey, which feels like the ultimate meta reference to how asinine modern country songwriting can be at times while also referencing how critics like myself can never help ourselves in pointing things like this out in reviews. “Mull It Over” is both funny and manages to incorporate a mullet reference right under your nose (while lines throughout reference the hair style too). “You Make It Hard” is the ultimate dick joke song. Finally you have “The USA Begins with US,” which casually and flawlessly mocks the absurdity that is so many patriotic country songs and how some artists inauthentically pander so hard with the USA stuff in their music (think songs like “Chicken Fried”).

While this was just a “casual” side project for Dierks Bentley and his band, you can tell a lot of love and work went into this fun idea. And I hope this isn’t the last we’ve heard of the Hot Country Knights, as the cornier, fun side of country music is something we need again. Speaking of more fun country music, Wade Bowen and Randy Rogers returned with another collaboration album, Hold My Beer, Vol. 2. The first addition got high praise from yours truly and I flipped when I saw the news that they were coming back with another edition in May.

While I really enjoyed this album for the most part, I unfortunately have to point the huge flaw in this project before getting to what I enjoy. And I have to point it out first because I was enjoying it so much upon initial listens and then I finally did my “deep” listen of it. The huge flaw I discovered was “Her.” Now I know I pointed out above that music today should have a more casual nature about it and not be so overthought. But it’s hard not to come away from “Her” as anything but disappointing. A song about a guy getting his friend drunk and stealing his girl away is just not something I can get behind, no matter how “fun-loving” it tries to come off. This song is no different than the horrible Old Dominion song “Break Up with Him.” It’s just in bad taste all-around and unlike Ashley McBryde’s new album Never Will, this song doesn’t try to view the flawed characters as neutral or bad actors, but rather quite the opposite.

So after making this discovery it felt like I had just eaten a piece of delicious chocolate cake only for the chef to come up to me afterwards and whisper in my ear that there was a fly baked into it. Nevertheless, the rest of this album is the kind of fun traditional country I can get behind and put on repeat. While there are no true highlights that resonate with me like on the first volume, there was still several fun moments. “Rodeo Clown” is an hilarious song about a guy being left by his woman for a rodeo clown. While it’s an embarrassing and sad thing for the guy, it’s quite a funny image from the outside looking in. While at first “Rhinestoned” and “Speak to Me Jukebox” felt a bit on the nose, I’ve ultimately come to really enjoy these little homages to country music and previous standards that so many country listeners enjoy.

“Am/Fm” is admittedly a bit too close to the very songs these two mocked with “Standards,” but damn if it isn’t admittedly catchy too. So I can understand anybody who decidedly falls on either side of the fence with this song. “Let Merle Be Merle” can kind of come off a bit tone deaf upon first listen of the chorus, but I realized upon more listens the message is really about letting people be what they are. Particularly with country music the song is saying to let the past be the past, don’t try to be the next Haggard. And these are messages I can get behind. “Ode to Ben Dorcy” surprised me as I was greeted by the welcoming voice of Waylon Jennings. And I found the song to be even more cool when I read about the origins of it, as it pays tribute to the long-time roady who supported so many artists.

“Mi Amigo”, even with the nice feature of Asleep at the Wheel, is a bit generic and forgettable. “Warm Beer” is a bit cliché, but I’ll admit I can enjoy it too for it’s easy-going nature. “Hold My Beer” is definitely better and is the kind of song that encapsulates the entertaining, buddy-buddy personalities of Bowen and Rogers. I wish “Her” could have been replaced with another song like this one. Or another song like “This Ain’t My Town,” which I would have to pick as the best on the record. It’s a poignant commentary on the gentrification of towns like Austin and Nashville, stripping away the soul and characteristics that made the places once resonate with the city’s original residents who now feel like strangers. It’s a nice balance also with the fun moments on this album, much like how “El Dorado” served on the first volume.

Hold My Beer, Vol. 2 is a really solid album that shines for the most part, despite the flaws. Although I would be remiss if I didn’t take the opportunity to make an observation of this album and The K is Silent. Each album shares multiple writers (Jon Randall, the Beavers brothers), despite the fact that some Texas Country supporters will insist that Wade and Randy’s album is much more authentic and country. But I would make the argument that these albums are essentially the same, as each have the same fun attitude and themes throughout.

The only difference is packaging and marketing. One is trying to be “serious” and the other is a “parody.” But you could argue both for well both. The point I’m ultimately trying to make here is how hung up in perceptions us listeners can have when it comes to music and the perception we think we give by listening to a certain type of music. Really at the end of the day it’s just a matter of how it makes you feel and if you enjoy it. The other stuff is just noise artists, labels and industry people trying to suck you into this fake us vs them plot to sell more music and tickets. And unfortunately this fuels the divides that exist in music too. In the words of the Doobie Brothers, just listen to the music and you can’t go wrong.

Hot Country Knights – The K is Silent – Strong 8/10

Wade Bowen & Randy Rogers – Hold My Beer, Vol. 2 – Light 8/10


And more…

  • After enjoying the Hot Country Knights album, it actually prompted me to re-listen to Dierks Bentley’s The Mountain. And I’m glad I did. Originally I was in the very small minority of not enjoying the album. But now you can count me in the camp of liking it. I’m not sure why I originally didn’t enjoy it, and while I wouldn’t put it as one of Bentley’s best (such as Modern Day Drifter, Riser, Up on the Ridge), it’s a really solid album full of great messages that deal with overcoming fears, anxiety and finding love. “Burning Man” is the perfect opener and the Brothers Osborne are the ideal feature for this type of song. The album’s title track feels like a good summation of this album, “You Can’t Bring Me Down” is an uplifting anthem and “Son of the Sun” is where you can really tells Dierks lets his inspiration from Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives’ Way Out West shine through. And his collaboration with Brandi Carlile on “Travelin’ Light” is so enjoyable. I’m not sure I’ll ever warm up to Black, but The Mountain is an album worthy of recommendation from yours truly now.
  • Run the Jewels is dropping RTJ4 on June 5 and I am pumped! All three albums they’ve released have been great (RTJ2 in particular is one of the best albums of the past decade), so I’m quite confident that this will be another can’t miss record from the dynamic duo of El-P and Killer Mike. I got even more excited when I saw the all-star features list for the album, including the likes of 2 Chainz, Zack De La Rocha, Pharrell Williams and Mavis Staples. I’ve only listened to small snippets and plan to not listen to any of the full songs before the album to go in completely blind. Needless to say this is an album that on paper has a great shot of making my top albums of the year list.
  • I just reposted my review of Kenny Chesney’s great Songs of the Saints album. But unfortunately his new album is right back to the generic garbage I’ve come to hate from him. I didn’t even make it halfway through before shutting it off. It’s a shame how his mediocre stuff is what always ends up as hits while his better material never seems to resonate with listeners as much. Then again when you condition your audience into coming to concerts to get blackout drunk and trash venues up, it’s not really that surprising I guess.
  • I recently started to explore the discography of the Carpenters and I wish I would have done so sooner. Their melodies are gorgeous and Karen Carpenter has to be one of the most underrated artists of all-time. It’s a shame her life was cut so short. Close To You is the standard recommendation with this duo and for good reason, as I enjoy it front to back. The love songs like “We’ve Only Just Begun” and “They Long To Be Close To You” easily standout thanks to the beautiful voice of Karen and their different take on the cover of “Help” holds up right next to The Beatles.
  • I gotta say I’m not a fan of the COVID-19-inspired songs being released. It’s bad enough to be profiting off a deadly virus, but then the songs themselves are so boring and uninspiring. I don’t really think anybody needs another reminder of it either. Country music in particular seems to be releasing the most songs about the topic and it reminds me so much of immediate post-9/11 country music. Luke Combs has the most popular song with “Six Feet Apart.” It’s just decent and for me it’s starting feel like all of his songs have the same cadence and feel about him. They just sort of blend together, so I hope he plans for more variety in future songs. Brad Paisley though has released the worst with “No I in Beer.” It’s so lazy, the pandering is tacked on at the end and it feels like a watered down conglomeration of his past songs. Please start doing better, Brad.
  • I don’t really pay a lot of attention to country radio nowadays, but I glanced through the chart the other day and I was happy to see LOCASH’s “One Big Country Song” is rising up the charts and becoming a hit. I’ve never been a big fan of the duo, but this song really caught my ear when I heard it last year. While the topic of the song is quite overused in country music, LOCASH manages to pull it off thanks to the fun, singalong nature and the catchy guitar licks.

Thanks for reading the first edition of The Endless Music Odyssey! This will be not necessarily a weekly feature, but a regular feature for sure. I will still do regular reviews when I have a ton to say about the album, but otherwise my thoughts will be in this feature. Josh’s Jukebox Journal will still be a feature and I plan to reveal at least one more feature very soon. I hope you enjoy my new approach to writing as much as I do! As always be sure to weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments below!