Tag Archives: Randy Travis

Single Review: Randy Travis and Joe Nichols, “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum”

Randy Travis Joe Nichols Tonight I'm Playin' PossumCould there possibly be a more emotionally and sentimentally charged record released this year?

A heartfelt tribute to the departed George Jones that celebrates his incredible legacy of music, “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum” is pure catnip for country music lovers.  More than just a list of nicknames for the Possum and shout-outs for some of his best songs, the reverence is coupled with relevance for his signature sound.

Randy Travis and Joe Nichols represent two successive generations that were shaped by Jones’ influence, and they weren’t even among the first generation of artists to be shaped by his work.   “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum” makes the case for Jones’ immortality, with his voice living on in heaven while it still plays down here in every lonely jukebox joint.

All that would’ve been enough to pull on the heartstrings.  But then, Travis nearly joined Jones in immortality this summer, a stunning and frightening turn of events that makes this record all the more painful to listen to.  Much like Jones on his final recordings, time and hard living have weathered Randy’s voice to the point that it’s nearly unrecognizable.  It wasn’t until Joe Nichols piped in that I was sure it was Randy Travis that started off the song.

We lionize our legends and our icons.  Their accomplishments on records seem almost superhuman, a byproduct of artists in their prime being captured for timeless posterity.  Sometimes, a tragedy happens that freezes a Patsy Cline or a Hank Williams in that moment forever.  More often, we have to watch these wondrous talents slowly drift toward their own mortality, as more notes fade out of reach and even the greatest stylists start to lose their distinctive style.

It’s painful.  I want more Randy Travis records, just like I want more of the George Jones records that will never come.  Time can keep running for a long time, but it always runs out in the end.

“Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum” is such an amazing tribute to Jones.  I wish that listening to it didn’t make me feel so sad.

Grade: A

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YuB467Q4rdc

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We Need to Have a Little Talk about Randy Travis

Randy TravisIn a year that has already brought the deaths of immortal talents like George Jones, Slim Whitman, Patti Page,  and Jack Greene, not to mention the untimely loss of Mindy McCready, it is understandable that the recent news regarding Randy Travis is having the country music fans collectively holding their breath with nervousness and dread.

There is something distinctly different about how I am processing the news about Randy Travis.    The thought of losing him is inextricably linked with a feeling that we’d be losing an essential core of the country music that I fell in love with more than two decades ago.  Now,  I remember Randy Travis from when I was a child.   What little kid wouldn’t be in love with a catchy song like “Forever and Ever, Amen”?

By the time I was old enough to discover country music on my own, he was already something of an elder statesman, despite his young age. As I delved into the history of the genre I was falling in love with, widely accepted concepts like Travis starting the new traditionalist movement and Storms of Life being one of greatest albums of all time had taken root.   The truth is, traditionalism never really went away, and even during the Urban Cowboy years, artists like Ricky Skaggs and Emmylou Harris were having commercial success with roots-based music.

But Randy Travis didn’t just have a bit of success.  He sold millions of records in a time where almost no country acts were doing so, and certainly none who didn’t incorporate pop or rock sounds into their work.   His massive success was the tipping point that made the nineties boom inevitable, as labels saw new acts like Clint Black and Alan Jackson as being capable of superstar status, instead of just being genre favorites that sold moderately well.

He never really got the credit he deserved for this, with the industry treating him like old news despite him continuing to score hits and sell platinum throughout the nineties and early 2000’s.   There are so many great singles that I was around for when they first came out.  “Before You Kill Us All.” “Look Heart, No Hands.”  “Out of My Bones.”  “Whisper My Name.”  “If I Didn’t Have You.”  “Better Class of Losers.”  “The Hole.”   “Three Wooden Crosses.” “Dig Two Graves.”  The list goes on and on.

He’s also responsible, through no fault of his own, for what I call country music’s Messiah Complex.   After he revolutionized the widespread appeal for traditionalism, which led to a solid decade of traditional country artists being signed and succeeding wildly, the sounds began to drift back to pop and rock flavorings.   Since this shift, every slightly twangy newbie has been anointed as the savior of country music.  Lee Ann Womack, Brad Paisley, Dixie Chicks, Joe Nichols, Josh Turner, Jamey Johnson, and Gretchen Wilson have all been shouldered with the burden of being the next Randy Travis.

This has led to deep disappointment when their second or third album struggled, or even worse, to feelings of betrayal when these selected stewards veered away from traditional country music.   All that pressure, and not a one of them even started off with an album in the same league as Storms of Life, though Johnson and the Chicks came remarkably close.

I can’t get my head or my heart around the thought that his contemporary titan might not be with us anymore.  I can’t stomach the coverage that focuses more on his personal troubles than his incredible body of work and peerless impact on country music as a whole.

Please use the comments to share your own thoughts and feelings about Randy Travis.  Also, I recommend reading the Favorite Songs by Favorite Artists piece that Leeann Ward wrote a few years ago.   It’s an excellent place to start for those who are looking to discover the his rich and diverse catalog.

 

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100 Greatest Men: #31. Randy Travis

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He’s widely hailed as the leader of the new traditionalist movement of the mid-eighties, but his impressive sales numbers made him something the genre had never seen before: a traditionalist superstar.

Travis was born Randy Traywick in a town just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina.   His youth was marked by two distinguishing features: a prodigious talent for music and a dangerous rebellious streak.   As a teenager, he played clubs with his older brother Ricky, but when the elder Traywick was jailed after a car chase, Randy moved to Charlotte proper to launch his own career at age sixteen.

Randy won a talent contest at a club owned  by Lib Hatcher, who took him under her wing and soon under her guardianship, after he barely evaded jail for what he was warned would be the last time.   Hatcher took on the role of manager, and managed to land an independent record deal that resulted in a minor hit in the early eighties.   A stint at the Nashville Palace and a well-received independent live album helped him land a deal with Warner Bros. Records.

The label convinced him to change his performing name to Randy Travis, and in 1986, his star took off.  He released the seminal album Storms of Life, arguably the most significant country album of the decade.  Its stunning multi-platinum success made Travis a household name, and destroyed the conventional wisdom that country must abandon its traditional sound to cross over to mainstream popularity.

Travis dominated the singles and albums charts for the next ten years, selling out arenas and racking up major industry awards.  But as significant as his own success was, he was just as important for creating the climate that allowed future legends

like Alan Jackson, Clint Black, and Garth Brooks to reach massive sales heights without the help of pop radio.   Though he was soon overshadowed by those giants, his sound remained the blueprint for mainstream country music well into the nineties.

Travis continued to score hits after leaving Warner Bros. for Dreamworks Records, but by the turn of the century, he was focusing his attention on country gospel music.   Even this detour produced a surprise country hit, with “Three Wooden Crosses” returning him to the top of the country charts in 2002, after an eight-year absence from the penthouse.   While he still remains primarily focused on the Christian market, his legacy continues to reverberate.  Most recently, Carrie Underwood revived his self-penned hit “I Told You So”, and invited him to record a duet version for the radio that peaked at #2.

Essential Singles:

  • On the Other Hand, 1986
  • Diggin’ Up Bones, 1986
  • Forever and Ever, Amen, 1987
  • Deeper than the Holler, 1988
  • Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart, 1990
  • Look Heart, No Hands, 1992
  • Whisper My Name, 1994
  • Out of My Bones, 1998
  • Three Wooden Crosses, 2002

Essential Albums:

  • Storms of Life, 1986
  • Always & Forever, 1987
  • No Holdin’ Back, 1989
  • High Lonesome, 1991
  • This is Me, 1994
  • Rise and Shine, 2002
  • Glory Train, 2005

Next: #30. Jim Reeves

Previous: #32. A.P. Carter

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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iPod Check: Most Played Song by Twenty Country Artists

Since bringing back Recommend a Track proved so popular, I’m resurrecting another CU oldie but goodie: the iPod check.

I’ve only recently discovered the Most Played feature on iTunes, since it never had any relevance until iPods were large enough in memory to sync all of my music.   So going back to early 2011, I have a lengthy list of the songs I’ve played the most.

So today’s iP0d check:  List your most-played song from twenty different country artists.

You can access this info by going to your own Most Played list and adjusting the number of songs on it – I use 500 for mine – or you can just go to Music and sort by number of plays.  Or you can just pick twenty artists at random and list your most played song for each.  We’re easy here.  (This would also work in Spotify, from what I hear.)

Here’s my top twenty:

  1. Pam Tillis – Deep Down (89 plays)
  2. Keith Urban – I Told You So (81)
  3. Dixie Chicks – Long Time Gone (71)
  4. Taylor Swift – Mean (68)
  5. Trisha Yearwood – Where Are You Now (63)
  6. Patty Loveless – You Can Feel Bad (59)
  7. Emmylou Harris – Easy From Now On (55)
  8. Carrie Underwood – Undo It (50)
  9. Lori McKenna – Lorraine (50)
  10. Dwight Yoakam – Ain’t That Lonely Yet (46)
  11. Sara Evans – Rocking Horse (45)
  12. Sawyer Brown – Cafe on the Corner (45)
  13. Reba McEntire – The Fear of Being Alone (44)
  14. Shania Twain – Up! (43)
  15. Faith

    Hill – Stealing Kisses (41)

  16. Alan Jackson – So You Don’t Have to Love Me Anymore (40)
  17. Crystal Gayle – Why Have Your Left the One You Left Me For (39)
  18. George Strait – Meanwhile (39)
  19. Lee Ann Womack – I May Hate Myself in the Morning (39)
  20. Aaron Tippin – Whole Lotta Love on the Line (38)

I’m surprised that some of my most played artists overall, like Dolly Parton, Randy Travis, and Tim McGraw, don’t have that one big song that I play excessively.  Also, at least half of the songs above aren’t what I would call my favorite song by the given artist.  How about you?

 

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Single Review: Toby Keith, "I Like Girls That Drink Beer"

An awesome throwback that recalls the great class-crossed lovers anthems without borrowing too heavily from them.

Yes, it’s been done before, by John Conlee, Travis Tritt, and Randy Travis, just to name a few.   The rich girl that falls for the roughneck country boy, who just can’t handle that high society.

Sometimes it has a happy ending, sometimes it doesn’t.   But it always ends on the country boy’s terms.  He’s sticking to his middlebrow lifestyle with or without her.

A fantasy? Of course it is.  But it’s an appealing one that reinforces the intrinsic value of blue collar life, where the vast majority of hardworking men and women never get a ticket out.

Toby Keith’s music was his ticket out, and he’s made millions more than most of his fans will ever see.  But it took him long enough to get there that he can still viscerally connect with his audience, and speak in their voice.

A lesser singer and writer couldn’t pull any of that off.  In fact, most of the guys on the radio today would have built a weak song around the eye-catching title, instead of a strong song which is far more interesting than even its title suggests.

But Keith isn’t just one of the genre’s greatest singers and songwriters.  He’s also one of its smartest.   When he’s at his best, we get songs that celebrate the working man and the country boy without a whiff of condescension or pandering.

This is Toby Keith at his best.

Written by Toby Keith and Bobby Pinson

Grade: A

Listen:  I Like Girls That Drink Beer

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d0Yv9XboIms

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100 Greatest Men: #46. Dwight Yoakam

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

One of the strongest voices of the New Traditionalist movement, Dwight Yoakam revitalized the Bakersfield sound as he shot to stardom in 1986.

Yoakam was born in Kentucky and raised in Ohio. Growing up, he pursued both music and acting, putting greater emphasis on the former after graduating from high school.   He moved to Nashville in the late seventies, but did not fit in well with the pop-flavored country music scene.

However, he did meet guitarist Pete Anderson while there, and the two headed off to Los Angeles, where Yoakam became popular in both rock and country clubs, thanks to his contemporary take on classic country and rockabilly sounds.

An independent EP caught the attention of Reprise Records, and Yoakam landed a deal with the label.   His debut LP, Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., shot to the top of the charts upon its release in 1986.  It established Yoakam as a significant leader among the New Traditionalists, updating the classic sounds of California country legend Buck Owens, among others.

Yoakam would spend the next decade selling platinum and beyond, despite having less consistent radio support than contemporaries like Randy Travis and Ricky Van Shelton.   In addition to writing his own material, he smartly chose covers that worked for his style, including one that partnered him with idol Owens.  Their collaboration “Streets of Bakersfield” was Yoakam’s first #1 hit, and it brought Owens back to the top slot for the first time in sixteen years.

Yoakam reached his critical and commercial peak in 1993 with This Time, an album that featured three huge hits, sold more than three million copies, and earned him a Grammy for Best Male Country Vocal Performance.   While riding high on the success of the album, he began to pursue acting in Hollywood.  From this point on, he would split his attention between music and film.

As the nineties progressed, his album sales slowed but continued to earn him critical acclaim.  He had his last major hit with a cover of the Queen classic “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” in 1999.  Since then, he’s released well-received albums on independent labels, most recently his stellar tribute album, Dwight Sings Buck.   In 2007, the CMA honored Yoakam with its award for International Touring Artist, and in 2012, he received the prestigious Cliffie Stone Pioneer Award from the Academy of Country Music.

Yoakam has not released a new studio album since 2005, but he has re-signed with his former label home of Warner Bros., and is scheduled to release an album of new material this year.

Essential Singles:

  • Guitars, Cadillacs, 1986
  • Streets of Bakersfield (with Buck Owens), 1988
  • I Sang Dixie, 1988
  • Suspicious Minds, 1992
  • Ain’t That Lonely Yet, 1993
  • A Thousand Miles From Nowhere, 1993
  • Fast as You, 1993
  • Things Change, 1998

Essential Albums:

  • Guitars, Cadillacs, Etc., Etc., 1986
  • Buenas Noches From a Lonely Room, 1988
  • If There was a Way, 1990
  • This Time, 1993
  • Gone, 1995
  • dwightyoakamacoustic.net, 2000

Next:  #45. ?

Previous: #47. Rodney Crowell

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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100 Greatest Men: #52. Keith Whitley

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

Some of the greatest artists in country music left the scene just as they reached staggering artistic heights, leaving fans to forever wonder what might have been.

Keith Whitley was born and raised in Kentucky, and was performing music from a very young age.  A prodigious talent, he was only fifteen years old when he met Ricky Skaggs while competing in a regional music contest.  The two became fast friends, and were soon performing on stage with bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley.

Whitley made two separate runs as a member of the Clinch Mountain Boys with Stanley, then performed in a group called New South, led by J.D Crowe.   After appearing on more than a dozen albums, first with the Boys and then with New South, he finally pursued a solo career in the early eighties, signing with RCA records.

His first album, A Hard Act to Follow, made little impact, but his second set, L.A. to Miami, earned him stardom. It featured his breakout hit, “Miami, My Amy”, and raised his profile considerably, but Whitley was displeased with the album's slick sound.   He truly found his voice on his first gold album, Don't Close Your Eyes, which featured three consecutive #1 hits, including the CMA Single of the Year, “I'm No Stranger to the Rain”, and the modern standard, “When You Say Nothing at All.”

Whitley became a new standard-bearer for neo-traditional country music, receiving critical acclaim that exceeded that of contemporaries like Randy Travis and Ricky Van Shelton.   With the chart success and a marriage to fellow country artist Lorrie Morgan that had just produced a son, Whitley was poised for long-term professional and personal success.

Sadly, he was battling alcoholism, a fight that he lost in May 1989, when he died of alcohol poisoning.  Amazingly, his success continued posthumously with the album, I Wonder Do You Think of Me also selling gold and featuring three big hits.   He remained a presence on radio in the early nineties through duets with other artists.   A collaboration with Morgan earned the CMA Vocal Event trophy, and a collaboration with Earl Thomas Conley reached #2 in 1991.

Whitley's recording career was brief, but much like Patsy Cline before him, his influence has cast a long shadow over the genre.

Essential Singles:

  • Miami, My Amy, 1985
  • Don't Close Your Eyes, 1988
  • When You Say Nothing at All, 1988
  • I'm No Stranger to the Rain, 1989
  • I Wonder Do You Think of Me, 1989
  • Brotherly Love (with Earl Thomas Conley), 1991

Essential Albums:

  • L.A. to Miami, 1985
  • Don't Close Your Eyes, 1988
  • I Wonder Do You Think of Me, 1989
  • Kentucky Bluebird, 1991

Next: #51. Sonny James

Previous: #53. Brooks & Dunn

100 Greatest Men: The Complete List

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Retro Single Review: Alan Jackson, “She’s Got the Rhythm (and I’ve Got the Blues)”

If there ever was a song where traditional country perfectly mixes with honky tonk blues, here it is.

This mid-tempo gem, written by Jackson and Randy Travis, showcases production that still sounds vibrant almost twenty years later. With steel guitar and honky tonk piano aplenty, “She’s Got the Rhythm (and I’ve Got the Blues)” is simply a two-and-a-half minute sonic delight.

Furthermore, the song’s concept is accentuated by its clever title and Jackson’s amusingly mournful delivery, including a pitiful “Yee haw” that ends up sounding more funny than sad, which ultimately describes the song as a whole, despite the theme of lost love.

Written by Alan Jackson and Randy Travis

Grade: A

Next: Tonight I Climbed the Wall

Previous: Love’s Got a Hold on You

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vElM1yUCkOU

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iPod Playlist: Originals And Covers

As I’m sure the rest of you do, I make playlists all the time. Many of them are lists of individual artists, but some of them have a concept.

My latest playlist is of covers. First, I have the original version (or the one that’s famous for being the original) followed by my favorite cover of it. My only rule is that I have to like both versions. So, songs where I like the cover but not the original won’t make the list.

I’ll share a sampling of what I have so far, as long as you share your latest or greatest concept playlist in the comments:

1. Buddy Miller, “Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go” (Miranda Lambert)
2. Hank Williams, “Hey, Good Lookin’” (The Mavericks)
3. Elvis Presley, “Suspicious Minds (Dwight Yoakam)
4. Dolly Parton, “Coat of Many Colors (Shania Twain/Alison Krauss)
5. Waylon Jennings, “Dreaming My Dreams with You” (Alison Krauss and Union Station)
6. Johnny Cash, “Understand Your Man” (Dwight Yoakam)
7. Merle Haggard, “The Way I Am” (Alan Jackson)
8. John Prine, “That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round” (Miranda Lambert)
9. John Anderson, “Swingin’” (LeAnn Rimes)
10. Buddy Miller, “Don’t Tell Me” (Alicia Nugent)
11. Kasey Chambers, “Pony” (Ashley Monroe)
12. Tammy Wynette, “Stand by Your Man” (Dixie Chicks)
13. Bill Monroe, “Blue Moon of Kentucky” (John Fogerty)
14. Conway Twitty, “Goodbye Time” (Blake Shelton)
15. Hank Williams, “I Saw the Light” (Blind Boys of Alabama/ Hank Williams Jr.)
16. Bob Dylan, “Shelter from the Storm” (Rodney Crowell/Emmylou Harris)
17. Merle Haggard, “Today I Started Loving You Again” (Buddy Jewell/Miranda Lambert)
18. Nitty Gritty Dirtband, “Fishing in the Dark” (Garth Brooks)
19. The White Stripes, “Dead Leaves in the Dirty Ground” (Chris Thile)
20. Al Green, “Lets Stay Together” (John Berry)
21. David Allan Coe, “You Never Even Called Me by My Name” (Doug Supernaw)
22. The Decemberists, “Shankill Butchers” (Sarah Jarosz
23. Steve Earle, “My Old Friend the Blues” (Patty Loveless)
24. Eric Clapton, “Lay Down Sally” (Delbert McClinton)
25. Fred Eaglesmith, “Time to Get a Gun” (Miranda Lambert)
26. Dolly Parton, “Jolene” (The White Stripes)
27. Johnny Cash, “I Still Miss Someone” (Suzy Bogguss)
28. Pearl Jam, “Better Man” (Sugarland)
29. Kris Kristofferson, “From the Bottle to the Bottom” (Dierks Bentley/Kris Kristofferson)
30. Don Williams, “Lord, I hope this Day is Good” (Lee Ann Womack)
31. Bob Dylan, “Don’t Think Twice, It’s all right” (Randy Travis)

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Single Review: Kenny Chesney featuring Grace Potter, “You and Tequila”

In some parallel universe where I had actual musical talent and the opportunity to record an album, I suspect I’d forgo the pile of demo tapes sent to unknown artists and just look for awesome album cuts from great songwriters.

Matraca Berg’s catalog of recorded cuts would be a good place to start, an epiphany that serves Kenny Chesney well.  Berg is usually associated with female artists, and indeed, this song was originally recorded by Deana Carter, who also co-wrote the song.   But Berg’s pen has been responsible for some great moments from Keith Urban and Randy Travis, so it’s no surprise that Chesney does well with this one.

Chesney sings it with more personality and general presence than Carter did, and the record also benefits from picking up the pace toward the end, a choice that would have elevated Berg’s own version as well.  The harmony vocal of Grace Potter isn’t essential until the song starts to fade away, but it does ease some of the loneliness embedded in the lyric.

All in all, it’s just nice to hear Chesney singing a great song again.

Written by Matraca Berg and Deana Carter

Grade: A-

Listen: You and Tequila

 

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