Take a seat at any old roadhouse bar and look to your left and right. Some people will be there drinking for fun, and others to forget. But on Shot Glass, the major label album debut from Warner Music Nashville’s Randall King, none of them are drinking alone.
A country-music purist whose style carries on an original American art form – with all its highs and lows included – King is something of a study in contrast, and his album is too. He often sounds like he just stepped out of a time machine, full of upbeat honky-tonk swagger and flashing the thoughtful gaze of Western poet. But he’s also got a thoroughly modern edge, driven to prove timeless tradition can co-exist with the pop-country mainstream. And it all comes together on Shot Glass.
Four years after his independent self-titled album kicked things off, the West-Texas native has now made the move to Music City, marking the start of a whole new chapter. He’s following a pair of visionary EPs with a top-shelf concept album – and in the process, buying all of classic country another round.
“I’m that rowdy honky-tonk artist,” King says with conviction. “But I’ve got music and roots that go deeper than just beer-slingin’ tunes. There’s a lot of depth.” Inspired by everyone from George Strait and Keith Whitley to Dierks Bentley and Eric Church, King grew up on the endless plains and endless highways of a mythical place in the American story – but its famous ways were never mere fantasy to him. The hardscrabble days, wild nights and heartbreaks were all just part of an everyday cycle, and his music continues to capture that mystique. Back with producers Bart Butler and Ryan Gore – the team behind contemporaries like Jon Pardi who also guided King’s recent She Gone and Leanna EPs – King refuses to settle for the lowest-common denominator. Each track on Shot Glass reveals another aspect of the only life he knows, and the people who live it. Sometimes that means joy, sometimes sadness. But above all, it’s real. “If there’s any kind of manufactured, fake aspect to it, it’s not gonna work for me,” says the singer-songwriter, who would have been a third-generation trucker had music not intervened. “I’m not an actor, so I’m gonna give you exactly who I am, where I’m from, and the things that reflect me. My upbringing ... my West-Texas roots.”
With 11 songs in total, King co-wrote eight on Shot Glass, each one digging deeper into his world. Not just high times on a Friday night, but also the harsh truth of hard work with an uncertain future, romantic dreams dissolving into mirage and saying goodbye to those you love ... far, far too soon. Further honing the bright honky-tonk textures that feature willowy steel guitars, twangy melody riffs and a dynamic vocal – equally at home on a roadhouse riser or inside a country-church chapel – King and his team continued to serve up the gritty and the beautiful on Shot Glass ... leaving extra room for a fiddle chaser. First track release “Record High” captures the carefree joy of King’s reality, basking in upbeat honky-tonk swing and vocals that exist on a higher emotional plane. King was initially skeptical of the tune – one of the set’s few outside cuts – but found it captured the magic of his live shows, even when COVID-19 forced him six-feet away from his fans.
“I started playing it, and the more I did, I realized this thing is perfect,” he says now. “You In a Honky Tonk” finds King crooning a slow-and-sexy two stepper, caught up in the neon glow of romance. “Baby Do” injects some ‘90s country bombast into a feel-good love song, and the clever “Roger Miller Lite & Me” tributes an underappreciated country icon, with King using the mantra “What would Roger do?” to medicate a breakup. But that’s only half of the story. “Middle of Nowhere Church” slows the pace for a revealing tale of personal redemption, opening with the devastated pure-country lines, “She was right, and I was wrong / I can’t make it on my own.” Likewise, “Hard Way to Make It Rain” reveals the bitter truth of a touring artist’s tumbleweed lifestyle. The popular “Hey Cowgirl” and “Around Forever” come over from his EPs, and a lump-in-his-throat cover of the gospel standard “I’ll Fly Away” closes the album. It was the song he used to sing his sister, Leanna, back home to Jesus in 2020. But it’s the title track, “Shot Glass,” which captures everything in a single pour. Written by King’s songwriting hero, Tony Lane, along with hit maker Brett James, it’s a reflective ballad with a loping beat and an instant-classic hook, toasting days gone by with all their triumph and tragedy included. It’s
the type of thing a person starts to think about, sitting at a bar with folks on either side, as a lifetime of memory distills down into an empty glass. And it makes you wonder, “How did it all fit?” “It’s beautiful poetry. But it’s also fresh and relatable at the same time,” King says, not realizing that
statement could easily apply to him, as well. You see, the truth is that country can represent more than one thing, just like a shot glass and those
people at the bar. In fact, it kind of needs to, if any sort of balance is to be found. And as Randall King steps into the spotlight, that balance may be ready to shift. “We’ve got a whole lot of momentum behind us, a whole lot of heat,” he says. “And now the pendulum of Nashville is swinging back toward country music.