Randy Travis was one of the great avatars of the 1980's neotrad scene... He arrived haloed and fully-formed, with a deep, soulful, authoritative voice worthy of the George Jones legacy, and a solid grasp of country's honky-tonk and heartsong traditions. His 1986 major-label debut was a watershed event, the arrival of an indisputable new superstar and one who, for once, totally deserved it. Of course, he eventually dipped into poppier sounds on a tune or two, but overall, Travis remained remarkably true to his hard-country roots. Having instantly conquered the country charts, other interests called to him: a successful acting career was the first detour, and later on, Travis decided to devote himself more or less exclusively to singing Christian music, sometimes still with a country twang. Throughout, his work has always been first-class -- here's a quick look at his career.




Discography - Best-Ofs

Randy Travis "Greatest Hits, v.1" (Warner, 1990)
A nice set of best-ofs (Volume Two came out at the same time as Volume One...) although they have been clearly superseded by the bigger, better best-of collections that came out a few years later. Still, if you're only looking for his best-known early hits, these out-of-print editions will certainly fill the bill. Not sure how good the sound mastering is on these ancient CDs, but there's one way to find out...


Randy Travis "Greatest Hits, v.2" (Warner, 1990)


Randy Travis "The Randy Travis Anthology: Trail Of Memories" (Rhino, 2002)
A great, possibly definitive, 2-CD career retrospective, spanning Travis' work on the Warner label, from 1986-1999. When Randy Travis burst onto the scene in the mid-1980s, his growly, grandpa-voiced George Jones-y sound was kinda unique, or at least a charming throwback. The first songs on this collection, from his 1986 debut, Storms Of Life, are a plain, simple joy -- formulaic, but pure hard country, with standard honkytonk arrangements and solid hard country vocals. It was a winning formula: pretty much every single Travis released went to the top of the charts. Of course, this meant Travis (or his producers) would eventually have to mess things up. Sure enough, by his third album, Old 8x10, Travis began to flirt with increasingly croony pop arrangements; he still had hits, but the neotraditional crowd started to grumble. And so it went. Travis would go back and forth between hard country and glossy popipolitan, settling into the little-bit-of-this, little-bit-of-that formula that now is standard operating procedure in Nashville. He's still more country than most, and ya gotta love that voice. Nice collection; definitely worth picking up if you're curious about Nashville's neo-trad scene.


Randy Travis "Three Wooden Crosses: The Inspirational Hits Of Randy Travis" (Word, 2009)


Randy Travis "I Told You So: The Ultimate Hits Of Randy Travis" (Warner, 2009)




Discography - Albums

Randy Ray "...Live At The Nashville Palace" (Randy Ray Records, 1982) (LP)
Although Travis seemed to appear, fully formed from the head of Proteus when he hit the charts in '86, it turns out he also had a past as an indie-label artist... There was this live album as well as a couple of singles in the late '70s under the name of Randy Traywick... Good luck tracking this stuff down -- I just barely learned of its existence myself! But I am mighty curious...


Randy Travis "Storms Of Life" (Warner, 1986)


Randy Travis "Always And Forever" (Warner, 1987)


Randy Travis "Old 8 x 10" (Warner Brothers, 1988)
(Produced by Kyle Lehning)

A pretty slow-paced, but super-soulful set of honkytonk weepers, with an uptempo tune or two to spice things up. He has such a great voice, and the songwriting is so strong and well-crafted... What more do you need to know? This album's kind of downcast, but it's definitely a keeper.


Randy Travis "An Old Time Christmas" (Warner, 1989)


Randy Travis "No Holdin' Back" (Warner, 1989)


Randy Travis "Heroes And Friends" (Warner, 1990)


Randy Travis "High Lonesome" (Warner Brothers, 1991)
(Produced by Kyle Lehning)

Another swell set of smooth, mellow weepers, and equally pleasing mid-tempo honkytonkers, all with a hint of western swing... Travis is just so calm and assured, and such a great performer. The only downside here is the gooey, sing-along hit, "Point Of Light," which has a touchy-feelie, born-again aura to it that some more secular-minded fans may find a little suffocating... Still, it's a great record, particularly with four songs on it co-written by an up-and-coming young'un named Alan Jackson, notably the anti-yuppie anthem, "Better Class Of Losers..." Again... what else can you say? This is a really nice record, packed with one good tune after another... Recommended!


Randy Travis "Wind In The Wire" (Warner, 1993)


Randy Travis "This Is Me" (Warner Brothers, 1994)
Even when he's coasting, Travis is still a force to be reckoned with... This disc has a mild pop gloss, but most of the songs are compulsively listenable. A few tracks -- "Whisper My Name," "This Is Me," "The Box" -- are kinda goopy and lame, but the rest of the album is easy on the ears; mostly it's just that durn voice... He's such a great singer, he could croon almost anything and it would sound just fine. Note, however, Randy's religious beliefs starting to creep in and take over the show... Most of the second half of the album has a spiritual theme or reference to it. This isn't his strongest record, but it's still got several songs that are worth checking out....


Randy Travis "Full Circle" (Warner Brothers, 1996)
Although chart success had largely slipped out of his grasp by the time this disc came out, it hardly reflected on the quality of the songs themselves. This is another soulful, well-produced, beautifully understated true country gem. Travis is still, amazingly, able to keep it real, even when he's dipping into slow songs and commercial country styles that other artists would founder on... Admittedly, this album does drag a bit, but the good songs - "I Wish It Would Rain," "Future Mister Me," "Price To Pay" -- are surprisingly strong for an artist whose been around as long as Travis, and who's been in the thick of the Nashville scene the whole time. Nice record; very finely crafted and definitely worth checking out.


Randy Travis "You And You Alone" (Dreamworks, 1998)
(Produced by Byron Gallimore, James Stroud & Randy Travis)


Randy Travis "A Man Ain't Made Of Stone" (Dreamworks, 1999)
(Produced by Byron Gallimore, James Stroud & Randy Travis)


Randy Travis "Inspirational Journey" (Warner Brothers, 2000)


Randy Travis " It Was Just A Matter Of Time" (DVD) (Image, 2001)


Randy Travis "Rise And Shine" (Word, 2002)


Randy Travis "Worship And Faith" (Curb/Word, 2003)
(Produced by Kyle Lehning)

An outstanding, understated, acoustic-based gospel set, with standards and original material, all delivered with warmth and conviction... Nice to hear that Travis's born-again religiousity hasn't gotten in the way of his musical strengths. Recommended, although maybe only for those who are already inclined towards the Christian material...


Randy Travis "Passing Through" (Word, 2004)


Randy Travis "Glory Train" (Word, 2005)


Randy Travis "Songs Of The Season" (Warner/Word, 2007)


Randy Travis "Randy Travis" (Cracker Barrel/Warner Brothers, 2011)
(Produced by Kyle Lehning)

The licensing deal with the folks at the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain must be pretty sweet, because Randy Travis is just the latest in a string of big-name artists have released exclusive records with them in the last few years. This disc is a nice, compact best-of set, with three "new," previously unreleased tracks on it: his own "I'm Free," Bobby Braddock's "This Song Doesn't Rhyme" and "She's Okay And I'm Okay," from the pen of Harlan Howard, along with a selection of hits from years gone by. The real draw is the trio of new songs -- there are so many great songs that got left off ("Old 8x10," etc.) that you'll really want to track down a bigger best-of to cover all the bases, but in the meantime, you'll enjoy cranking up tunes like "1982" and singing along. For the past decade or more Travis has been mostly an exclusively gospel-oriented artist, and there are a couple of his Christian country songs on here as well. There's nothing like hearing that great voice of his, that's for sure! Plus a little bit of mashed potatoes and chicken-fried steak never hurt anybody...


Randy Travis "Blessed Assurance" (Spring Hill, 2011)
An album of gospel standards by the ever-evangelical Mr. Travis? Sounds pretty sweet to me. He has a real knack for pioneering new material, but going back to the well for more traditional stuff also suits him well.


Randy Travis "Influence Vol. 1: The Man I Am" (Warner Brothers, 2013)
In recent years, honkytonker Randy Travis has settled into a comfortable path as a Contemporary Christian/country gospel singer, but he's back in secular mode on this well-produced, slightly laid-back album. The songs are a mix of few new tunes along with a slew of classic country oldies such as Ernest Tubb's "Thanks A Lot," Lefty Frizzell's "Saginaw, Michigan," "Trouble In Mind" and "I'm Always On A Mountain When I Fall," and a bunch of other Merle Haggard songs. Travis pays tribute to the late George Jones with a cover of "Why Baby Why" and the album's closer, "Tonight I'm Playin' Possum," a nice, steel-drenched duet with Joe Nichols... Travis also seems to have paid inadvertent tribute to Jones with his recent, highly-publicized arrests for drunken behavior in 2012, as well as his equally tragic diagnosis for viral cardiomyopathy, a subsequent stroke and the resulting emergency brain surgery in the summer of 2013. Jeez. That's hard stuff. Well, it's great to hear him back in action... And we all with Randy the best, and hope to hear more great music in years to come.


Randy Travis "Influence, Volume Two: The Man I Am" (Warner Brothers, 2014)
I was happy to see old-school neotrad singer Randy Travis still getting back to his roots on this set of mostly-covers of country classics such as "Only Daddy That'll Walk The Line," "Set 'Em Up, Joe," "Mind Your Own Business," and "That's The Way Love Goes." The album was disappointing, though... The first thing you notice is that Travis's voice has changed -- his old, rumbling, deep, mahogonied vocal tones are apparently long gone -- but I could live with that if only the backing band on this album had put just a little more effort into it... Instead, they sound like they're barely going through the motions, which is a shame since Travis deserves better. This is borne out on the album's one really good song, "Tonight I'm Playin' Possum," a well-written George Jones tribute song that has Travis and the band finally putting some feeling into it. Travis might not be able to hit those same low notes anymore, but he can bring a good song to life, and this one's a doozy, even if it was also on Volume One.




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