"Coltish" describes Randy Whitt pretty well: He's on the lanky side, and his stride and stage presence suggest an abundance of energy waiting to escape. For the most part, he kept that energy bottled on 2006's We've Had Some Trouble, a subdued record that owed more to '70s radio soul than you might expect from the young leader of a honky-tonk band. On follow-up The Good the Bad & the Grits, Whitt picks up where Trouble left off but adds enough new flourishes and angles to make things interesting: "Devil's Beating His Wife" (an old expression describing a sun shower) and "Neon Lights" add country-soul guitar fills and bonus organ work from lead guitarist Anthony Lener, coaxing an ample shimmer. But elsewhere, true to the band name and the album title, gritty country music carries the songs. The themes and images are mostly familiar—bottles on bars, lives on hold—but Whitt sells them with a voice that seems to be on the edge of urgency (see bottled energy above). And his backing Grits—from Fabio Consani's harmonica as the secret Grits ingredient to guest pedal and lap steel man Steve Watson—is just right.
So, is a honky-tonk number like, say, "Sweet Marie" worthwhile? Absolutely. But the most interesting song here is "Cocaine and Misery." While We've Had Some Trouble and much of The Good the Bad & the Grits feels like life's sticky issues as contemplated behind closed doors after-hours, "Cocaine and Misery" is more like an argument in broad daylight. It's loud and a little messy. It's Whitt's version of rocking out: Clearly, this pony has more than one trick.
Randy Whitt & the Grits release The Good the Bad & the Grits at The ArtsCenter on Friday, Nov. 2. Hundred Air opens, and the music starts at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $12.