When Randy Houser returns home from a rigorous touring schedule, he likes to think of himself as the protagonist from a classic Western film, the proverbial courageous cowboy.
"The direct comparison of my lifestyle -- which is in and out of home -- the way we have to come home and ride away again, it compares to the old cowboy lifestyle of having to leave and take the herd. ... It's just like the old movie where the cowboy comes in and saves the day."
Relaying this message in "Like a Cowboy," a song featured on his third album How Country Feels, the tune draws parallels of his own fast-paced lifestyle and constant yearning for time at home with his family. And it's this family time that has never been more important to the gritty powerhouse singer. Just last March, Houser and his wife Jessa welcomed their first child together.
"Personally, it has changed me in every way," he said of becoming a father. "Really, it has. Things are just not the same anymore. I don't care as much about me as I used to. It's amazing how all the selfishness kind of flies out the window. You would walk out in front of a bus for them to keep them from feeling any pain. That's amazing. ...
"Being married and having a family definitely probably changes some of the things I'll sing about. I'm not a single man. I'm just not going to disrespect my family. It definitely changes what you will talk about or what you will sing about."
But don't think fatherhood has clouded his edge. Quite the opposite, really. With its catchy lyrics and infectious beat, the album's title track quickly become a crowd pleaser at his live shows and just hit No. 1 on Billboard country airplay chart.
Seeing the fans belt out the tune's quirky lines, "Hair down! Hair down!," has become one of the entertainer's favorite aspects about playing the song live.
"We make them sing it over and over and over," he laughed. "We just have a ball with it."
The album's upcoming single, "Runnin' Outta Moonlight," provides a solid follow-up tune, upholding the same high-energy appeal while also providing a smooth segue from one buoyant track to another.
Rocking and in-your-face tunes like "Growin' Younger," "Absolutely Nothing," "Sunshine on the Line and "Shine" all work to construct this upbeat tempo while effortlessly blending with the cheerful, love-ridden tracks "Top of the World," "Absolutely Nothing" and "Goodnight Kiss."
"I think it's probably the best one I've done," he said of the project, where he's credited with co-writing half of the tracks. "On this record, I really wanted to make an album for the fans and for the fans that listen to country music today and country radio, the way the music is now."
But this isn't to say Houser is shying away from the emotional ballads. The project's well-balanced mixture of song material also confronts weightier subjects like the evocative "Power of a Song," "Wherever Love Goes," a tender duet with season seven American Idol finalist Kristy Lee Cook, and the bone-tingling, faith-seeking tune, "Along for the Ride."
"I stayed up until about 4:30 one morning writing that song and got stuck," he remembered. "I really didn't know where to go with it after the first chorus."
Knowing his path would soon cross with Zac Brown at an upcoming festival, he sought out his friend for some help finishing the lyrics.
"And I went in there and played it down ... the next thing he pulled out, 'It's all gonna fall right into liiiiiine," Houser sang of Brown's idea." And it just made total sense where we were headed and he and Levi Lowrey just nailed it, finished it and it was great."
Also tackling a thought-provoking perspective within a song is the Drew Smith and Trent Willmon collaboration, "The Singer." A narrative relaying the difficulties of loving a traveling musician, the poetic lines clench the listener with the jaw-dropping hook, "She loved the singer/She just couldn't live the song."
"It's always refreshing when you hear a song where the songwriters just slapped you in the face with something you've always felt," said Houser.
"I just think it's a brilliant song," he explained "It's just something that I've definitely experienced before I was married with people I dated. It takes a special, special person to deal with a partner, husband, boyfriend, anything, to deal with what we do for a living and the attention we get. And a lot of times, honestly, never intentionally, but a lot of times, I feel like they feel like they're pushed to the side a little bit. But it's just that we're busy, and our lifestyle is completely not like anyone else's."
Unearthing some of his own deep-seated emotions, Houser joined forces with songwriting buddies Rhett Akins and Ben Hayslip for the revealing and deeply personal narrative, "Route 3 Box 250 D," where he sings of a difficult childhood in Mississippi.
"That's definitely the most personal place on the album," he admitted. "It might be the most personal song I've written to date. I don't think it's prolific or anything like that, I just think it was a spewing of something that needed to come out of me. ... And I kept saying, 'Do I really want to say this? Do I really want to let this out?'"
Fortunately, the songwriting process became a cleansing and therapeutic healing for Houser.
"Sometimes it's like, people are going to take it as a sign of weakness, in a way," he said of publicly showcasing such openness and vulnerability within his music. "And that's not the case. I think for me, it just makes me stronger to be able to shed those things and let them roll off my back."