DISClaimer: Messina, Houser Deliver Solid Songs, Superb Vocals

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Cowboy Up! Randy Houser

When you get right down to it, I’m still a sucker for a great singer and/or a well-crafted song.

These are the things that made me a country fan in the first place, and they are still what I love about the genre. They are also the things that power the two best singles of this week’s listening session.

Both Jo Dee Messina and Randy Houser powered past the major-label releases with efforts that are both solid slabs of songwriting and superb vocal performances. Randy Houser’s flame-thrower vocal delivery, in fact, earns him a Disc of the Day.

All three of our DisCovery Award contenders are female—RaeLynn, Kayla Adams and our winner, Ali Dee. I’m all ears: Send more.

KAYLA ADAMS/Sober & Sorry
Writer: Kayla Adams/Billy Atherholt/Pete Nanney; Producer: Marlon “Dean” Scanlon; Publisher: Kayla Adams/Atherholt/Shootin Straight, BMI; SSM (615-254-2053)
—It’s another one of those modern country compositions that substitutes attitude for melody.

RANDY HOUSER /Like a Cowboy
Writer: none listed; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Stoney Creek (ERG) 
—Randy sings his face off on this power ballad about life on the rodeo circuit. The metaphors about a relationship are well drawn, but even if they weren’t, his leather-lunged, barn-burning delivery will make you a believer. What a hoss.

MERLE HAGGARD & MARY SARAH/Fightin’ Side of Me
Writer: Merle Haggard; Producer: Kent Wells & Freddy Powers; Publisher: none listed, BMI; 144 E (CDX) (www.marysarah.com)
—She sounds completely ridiculous singing these lyrics in that childish voice. The Hag seems comfortable riding along on the country-rock track. But there’s no escaping how “dated” the song is.

ROBBY JOHNSON/Feel Good Song
Writer: Robby Johnson/Frank Myers/Jill Spencer/Michael Gresham; Producer: Frank Myers & Jimmy Nichols; Publisher: Maleva/Ole/Contrast/Brand, BMI/SOCAN/ASCAP/SESAC; OMR (CDX) (www.robby-johnson.com)
—He’s trying awfully hard to sound rough and tough on this quasi-shouted, lead-foot stomper. I’d like it better if he would just sing.

Ali Dee

Ali Dee

LITTLE BIG TOWN/Day Drinking
Writer: Karen Fairchild/Philip Sweet/Jimi Westbrook/Barry Dean/Troy Verges; Producer: Jay Joyce; Publisher: Warner-Tamerlane/Little Big Town/Songs of Universal/Creative Nation/Country Paper/Pulse Nation/Magnolia Beach, BMI; Capitol Nashville (CDX) 
—From the moment the mandolin chops begin, your ears perk up. Then the whistling interjections pop in during the choruses. Audio addiction. A summer smash.

KENNY CHESNEY/American Kids
Writer: Rodney Clawson/Shane McAnally/Luke Laird; Producer: Buddy Cannon & Kenny Chesney; Publisher: Big Red Toe/Farm Town/Big Loud Bucks/Universal/Smack Ink/Creative Nation/Twangin and Slangin, ASCAP/BMI; Columbia/Blue Chair 
—Kenny’s return to disc is a relaxed-sounding bopper with a summertime vibe. The lyric paints portraits of young folks trying to shed their innocence that most of us can relate to.

RAELYNN/God Made Girls
Writer: RaeLynn/Nicolle Galyon/Lori McKenna/Liz Rose; Producer: Joey Moi; Publisher: Super Big/Big Machine/Prescription/Kobalt/I Take the Bull By the Horns/Warner-Tamerlane/Songs of Crazy Girl, ASCAP/BMI; Valory 
—The song is extraordinarily well written. The production is packed with catchy audio hooks. But her singing voice is so girlie and chirpy, it almost sounds like a cartoon. A fine single, albeit one that takes some getting used to.

ALI DEE/Just a Broken Heart
Writer: Maren Morris/Chase McGill/Carrie Manolakos/Ichabod; Producer: none listed; Publisher: none listed; Ali Dee (www.alidee.com)
—Her drawling accent is her charming calling card. It helps her deliver this loping, loose groover with enormous panache. “No, that knife in my back ain’t sharp/It’s just a broken heart,” she shrugs. The twanging production, whistling passages and merry instrumental support are as ear catching as her performance. A complete winner.

JO DEE MESSINA/A Woman’s Rant
Writer: Jo Dee Messina; Producer: Jo Dee Messina & Julian King; Publisher: Dreambound, ASCAP; Dreambound (track) (www.jodeemessina.com)
—I have always loved her feisty personality, and this performance is the most perfect distillation of it to date. The country-rock band cooks with gas while she spews out the lickety-split lady’s lament with a boat load of wit and sass. A super single.

MISS JEANIE/Fool Chain
Writer: David Davidson/Judy M. Rodman/Kristin Maryka Wilkinson; Producer: Lonnie Spiker; Publisher: Black Lagoon/Warner-Tamerlane, BMI; Miss Jeanie (track) 
—You’re kidding, right? I’m expected to review this? I’m sure she’s a lovely person, but her singing, um, leaves a lot to be desired.

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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