An album for existing fans, rather than newcomers to this great country talent.
Nick Barraclough 2011
"Randy Travis changed the landscape of country music when he arrived on the scene 25 years ago," so reads the proud claim of the boss of Warner Music Nashville. He didn’t, quite, but the impression he made was certainly significant. What Travis did was remind us of what the music was all about at a time when mainstream country had a dreadful hangover from the days of the urban cowboy, and Marie Osmond. He sounded like all those great singers we’d forgotten about, stirring welcomed-back memories of George Jones, Merle Haggard and Waylon Jennings. He captured his audience with a deep, rich honky-tonk voice, some stunning songs and an apparent lack of pretention. He was the perfect country star: humble, but brilliant.
So it’s fitting that his 25th anniversary in the business is marked in this fashion, with an array of distinguished singers joining Travis to make this album. Amongst the line-up of guests are Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson and Tim McGraw, and it’s great to hear him in such fine company. The problem, though, is the material that the assembled talent has to work with. A few Travis hits past – Forever and Ever, Amen and Diggin’ Up Bones both topped the US country chart in the mid-80s – appear, but they are lacklustre re-workings when compared to the originals. The only new songs that stand out are the opening track, and that has a lot to do with Brad Paisley’s energy and groove, and Promises, a duet with Shelby Lynne, whose weary voice blends perfectly with Randy’s.
Other voices contrast with rather more amusing results. Carrie Underwood is positively perky on Is It Still Over?, a hit for Travis back in 1989; her contributions leave the star of this show sounding very much the old man. But the next track, Road to Surrender, features Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson: next to these old-timers, Travis sounds like a teen. The closer, save for a bonus track, is a horrible all-together-now offering. On Didn’t We Shine, Travis is joined by the likes of Connie Smith, Lonnie Morgan and Ray Price, who set about singing about how they were once good, but aren’t so much anymore.
If you’re a fan of Randy Travis already, then this is well worth picking up. If you’re not, though, wait until the sentimentality ebbs away and he makes a new, proper album. He’s no age, after all – just look at Willie…