Interview: Jon Randall Returns to the Solo Spotlight With New Self-Titled Album
After a decade and a half, Jon Randall can finally say he's got a new solo album out now.
Not that he's been idle or reclusive since releasing 2005's Walking Among the Living — far from it. In 2021 alone, country music fans have heard his production work on Parker McCollum's major-label debut album, Gold Chain Cowboy, and on Chase Bryant's comeback album, Upbringing. In March, he, Jack Ingram and Miranda Lambert released the The Marfa Tapes, an album of bare-bones recordings born of their annual songwriting trips to Marfa, Texas.
The trio are former labelmates, and Randall says Ingram and Lambert have long been on his case about releasing another solo project. He'd been building the collection of nine songs that form Jon Randall — out Friday (Sept. 10) — for a while; The Marfa Tapes' release just helped solidify the timeline.
"Miranda and Jack were both like, 'Hey, you need to put some new music out, because people are going to start seeing you from this, and they're gonna go back and look, and your record's 15 years old," Randall recalls.
"I was actually going to put it out before [the COVID-19 pandemic hit], but we ended up putting out [my wife and fellow singer-songwriter] Jessi [Alexander's] record," adds the singer-songwriter-producer, who produced Alexander's March 2020 solo album Decatur County Red, "and then quarantine happened."
Alexander herself had waited six years in between albums, but working with her — as well as with Ingram, Lambert and others — put Randall in a good creative groove. Together, they served as a sounding board for him as he pieced together this self-titled project.
"I finally got into this place where it's like, I wanted to start making music that I wanted to make and working with artists I wanted to work with ...," he says, "and so, it just kind of fell into that realm of, 'Hey, we can make music now without having a major label or having to go on a radio tour ... I could throw some music out there."
Jon Randall isn't flashy or bombastic; rather, he kept the recordings sparse, though Jerry Douglas, Emerson Hart, Ian Fitchuk and others — guys Randall considers his "core group" of go-to musicians — play on them. Despite his own production experience, he also brought in Grammy-winner Brandon Bell to helm the record.
"Sometimes when I'm in there singing or playing, I need somebody behind the window telling me if I'm sucking or not," Randall says, "like, 'Is this right? Is this cool?' We've just worked on so many things together that I needed his help."
Randall wrote six of the nine songs solo, and worked with only four other songwriters across the three remaining tracks. One of those songs is technically a cover: "Girls From Texas," made famous by Pat Green, but co-written by Randall and Shane McAnally. Ingram sings it with Randall.
"Jack never forgave me for giving that song to Pat ... and I wanted to do something with Jack, and it was kind of like, 'This is the perfect song for Jack and I to perform together," Randall offers. They used his original demo and redid the vocals.
It's surprising, in a way, that "Velvet Elvis Buzz" — Jon Randall's penultimate track — isn't also a cover. Randall and lauded singer-songwriter Travis Meadows co-wrote the tender track that compares love to a drug and offers a bit of well-earned shock value in its final chorus, when the line "You trash my house and kiss me / I get high / You f--k me up" becomes a bit more R-rated thanks to some added lyrics and a perfectly timed pause.
"My mom hates that song," Randall says with a laugh. "I think it's one of those polarizing songs: Either people love it or they don't," he adds, noting that although he's surprised Meadows never recorded it, he can understand why no else ever dared to do it.
"I love those songs that are kind of like you're a character in a movie," he continues. "You're in, like, a David Lynch film in the middle of that track."
Randall's fine with "Velvet Elvis Buzz" — and Jon Randall's other songs — taking a while to see the light of day. "None of it really fits in the market of what goes on around this town," he points out. "I'm kind of glad I got to hang onto them."