Houston Bernard is about the closest I’ve heard to a surefire-hit independent male country music vocalist in years. He’s doing a fine job building his fanbase on his own, but man, if I were a label looking for a fresh new voice within a well-worn, straightforward country music path, he’d be at the top of my list. He’s got just a little wriggle in his voice that makes it identifiable to get him attention, but his music fall smack dab in the middle of the eight-lane highway of male country vocalist.
From Oklahoma but country-rockin’ from a home base in Massachusetts, Houston Bernard is the king of current-style male country music singers in the region, and I guarantee he’d be top-three in any country market. (Almost certainly still my personal fave because of his strong songwriting skills and his everyday, friendly vocal edge.) I’ve reviewed a couple of his performances at Local CountryFests. Last summer I wanted to review some of his music but was just beginning to dig out of my backlog, so I introduced Blog contributor Eric Harabadian to Houston’s music, and Eric enthusiastically reviewed the single “American Dream.” Eric has a more complete knowledge base in some areas, so I love reading his take on my favorite artists. But now that I have the time again, I’m reviewing Houston’s latest releases myself.
I enjoy reviewing multiple songs at a time because they allow me to talk about the breadth of an artist’s repertoire. In Houston’s case, he has been releasing singles lately, so I appreciate the opportunity to write about three of them in a single review. The first song, “People We Are,” dropped on January 15th and made some noise for Houston. The other two, “Small Town Way” and “Without You Honey,” were released on March 26th. Among the three, we have two uptempo, big-country anthems and a slower number, a ratio not too different from the mix of Houston’s recordings overall, showcasing his ability to shine across various tempos.
“People We Are” is has a wideopen guitar hook that brings to mind sunny days and blue skies in this all-American anthem. “We’re a little bit of ‘hell, yeah,’ and a little bit of Amen. A whole lotta work hard, and throw in a little playin’.” It’s a big, enthusiastic song, and it’s easy to see why it garnered Houston some notice, the pedigree of its writing team notwithstanding. (“People We Are” was written by Kim Penz and Cole Taylor, whose credits include Luke Bryan, Florida Georgia Line, Jason Aldean, and Cole Swindell, among others.) The song is a bit of a summer anthem, especially for a song released in January, but I’m sure anyone who heard it in the dead of winter appreciated its big, bright power… while doin’ a fair bit more workin’ hard and a lot less playin’ than even in a typical January when the short days cause that to usually be the case.
“Small Town Way,” cowritten by Houston Bernard and Brandon Ray, is a cool take on small-town life, another song that’ll almost certainly tug at the memories and pride of fans from the heartland (where Houston and I both originally come from), as well as small towns we’re aware of in areas most people don’t think of unless they live there, like here in Massachusetts, where our small towns aren’t much different from small towns everywhere. Anyway, Houston’s voice carries its usual power and emotion, very clean and strong but relatable, while the music itself includes an uplifting tempo and well-placed guitar hooks. The song is a little less all about the “boom” than “People We Are” and has a little more git-along in its rhythm, if you know what I mean. It’s still got the punch to be a big hit, but it also has the additional complexity to its rhythm and music bed to give it staying power. With the right placement, this could easily be the small town, American-as-apple-pie song of the summer.
“Without You Honey,” penned by Houston Bernard, Mary Haller and Adam Steinberg, showcases Houston’s ability to take on a softer tempo. Oh, this is one of those rockin’ ballads, with a dancing guitar solo in the bridge, a sad tinge to the supporting axework and the rhythm, and lyrics like “I’m a fast train runnin’ with nowhere to go without you, honey.” A perfect country music club slow dance song, whether with a live band or from a jukebox. And, of course, Houston’s voice sells it, as it always does. These slow songs really take advantage of the subtle boom at the low end of Houston’s vocal range.
This three-song collection showcases Houston’s broad potential fanbase. And that’s great. But if you’re reading this as a fan, all you really need to know is that these songs are straight-down-the-middle, radio-friendly country music with Houston Bernard’s trademark stamp on them, with a sound that immediately tells you they’re his song. If you’re any kind of a country music fan – or just a good fan of talented artists regardless of genre – you’ll dig these tunes.
There aren’t any upcoming shows listed on the “Shows” page of Houston’s website, but that’s where you’ll find them whenever live music returns in earnest. You can keep up with Houston’s daily goings-on on at Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok.