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



  1. I don’t know which makes me more sad, the fact that George Jones is gone or the fact that the type of and sound of music he brought to a genre is nearly gone? I feel sad and disappointed knowing that the music that Jones worked a lifetime to create and continuously mold has been abandon by seemingly everyone in Nashville today. This terrific song is but an anomaly in the overall pool of modern country music songs. It’s a true shame that I not only have to feel nostalgic about a man himself, but I also have to feel that same sense of nostalgia for the entire genre he helped create.

  2. This review nails it. I tried listening to this last week and could barely keep the tears from flowing in light of Randy’s recent health issues. Randy Travis is a living record of an important part of country music history and I want and need him to keep adding to it.

    Nice job by Joe Nichols here too.

  3. I’m afraid my feelings are a bit contrary on this one.

    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.

    I didn’t have that experience at all. I found Randy’s vocals instantly recognizable, same as ever. No offense to Joe Nichols, but I was underwhelmed by his contribution to the recording. I wish it had just been a solo performance by Randy, or that he’d cut it with someone with a more distinguishable voice.

    As for the song itself, it’s alright enough but I confess it makes me think of Alan Jackson’s “Playin’ Possum” from his Don’t Rock the Jukebox album. Jackson’s song is better written in pretty much every way and there’s a part of me that wishes Randy Travis had just covered that song.

  4. To be honest, I want to like this song, but there were some things keeping me from really liking it. Randy’s voice was recognizable to me, but much deteriorated, which was painful for me to hear. I like the song pretty well, but I haven’t reconciled myself with his changed voice, so it’s hard for me to listen to for that reason. I also didn’t feel this was a true duet, because I couldn’t hear Travis and Nichols singing together, so it felt disconnected to me.

  5. The fact that Randy’s voice has deteriorated doesn’t bother me much, but I don’t think the song works well as a duet, and for some reason the title pun leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I don’t doubt that it comes from a place of deep sincerity on the part of both Travis and Nichols – I just can’t seem to embrace it like I want to.

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