A brand of neo-traditional country music has entered the mainstream scene in response to the hip hop beats of bro country and smooth EDM of metro country. Artists like Aaron Watson and Randy Houser are providing a strong alternative on the charts for fans who prefer their country closer to its roots. The challenge for a country artist today is to find a balance between the fans and their business. A small handful of writers are responsible for most of the mainstream chart toppers, resulting in a homogenized sound.
Houser does his best to balance the battle between sales and artistic vision. While he has a strong neo-traditional presence, there are a few tracks on "Fired Up" that are clearly placed to appease label interests. With an unheard of 17 songs, there is plenty of room for a couple throwaway tracks though, providing great value for fans. His strong vocals elevate the emotional ballads, soaring to heights that surpass many of his Nashville peers. Far from a one trick show, he also succeeds when channeling Southern Rock.
The album is so solid, it is easiest to highlight the missteps. The awkward "Before Midnight" is a feeble attempt to ape Jason Aldean's hip hop/ rock blend and falls flat. A similar critique can be made of "Chasing Down a Good Time," a stereotypical summer anthem, with a dance beat that doesn't mesh well with Houser's twang. The argument that these forays into pop territory are label driven is supported by the fact that the two weakest tracks are the lead singles: "We Went" and "Song Number 7." While the songs are arguably the most polished in his discography to date, there is still an element of country and rock that has come to define his sound.
While his commitment to country music traditions has prevented him from enjoying the chart success of some of his more pop friendly peers, Houser continues to release great albums. With a track list almost double the industry norm, this album provides an excess of quality music.