“Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man”
Written by Trey Bruce and Glen Burtnik
Radio & Records
#1 (2 weeks)
January 15- January 22, 1999
Randy Travis earns his final No. 1 hit of the nineties.
The Road to No. 1
After his big comeback hit “Out of My Bones” returned him to the top, Travis kept the momentum going with “The Hole,” which went top ten. The third single from You and You Alone became Travis’ final chart-topper of the nineties.
The No. 1
Mark Collie originally recorded “Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man,” but it still sounds like it was written with Randy Travis in mind.
It’s a sophisticated, nuanced, and mature song that is already an impressive feat of songwriting. It’s written in such a way that the focus is on the tension that is present as we make major life decisions. Travis is able to communicate both sides of the struggle with empathy and without judgment. It’s a hell of a balancing act, given that we never learn for sure if the boy or the man wins, though it’s heavily implied that the latter is victorious.
The latter half of this decade gets the short shrift these days. Hell, it even did back when it was happening. But there was still a window of opportunity for a veteran artist to release an evocative, intelligent record that doesn’t give the listener an easy resolution for the dilemmas that the song presents. There was still room for adults at the country music table.
The Road From No. 1
The final single from You and You Alone was “Stranger in My Mirror,” and it went top twenty. Travis released one more album for DreamWorks: A Man Ain’t Made of Stone. The title track went top twenty. We’ll see Randy Travis again when we cover both the 1980s and the 2000s.
“Spirit of a Boy, Wisdom of a Man” gets an A.
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Despite Collie’s gruff vocals, his version of this song from his James Stroud-produced 1995 album “Tennessee Plates” still sounded as as if he were singing from the perspective of a younger man. He was representing the boy in the dichotomy of the song structure and lyrics. Travis sounds like the voice of wisdom, the man. Then again, who wouldn’t sound boyish in comparison with Randy Travis?
It’s fundamentally a great song and Collie’s version is as worthy a listen as Travis’. Travis, as the better vocalist, however, elevates it to another level.
I agree that unresolved, morally ambiguous songs like this are thrilling. The Hardy- Lainey Wilson single “Wait in the Truck” seems like the first time in a long time that we have gotten back to this tradition with mainstream country.