CD Review of Around the Bend by Randy Travis
Recommended if you like
Alan Jackson, Lyle Lovett,
George Strait
Label
Warner Brothers
Randy Travis:
Around the Bend

Reviewed by Red Rocker

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I
magine my excitement when, upon receiving the press kit for the new Randy Travis album, I read “Randy Travis has recorded the perfect country album.” Now, whether you’re the most skeptical person on Earth or just trying to take something written by his own label with a grain of salt, it’s still hard not to get at least a little fired up by such a claim. Maybe it’s merely the idea of getting Travis back among the traditional country ranks. Following a string of Christian/Gospel albums, two of which earned Grammys, Around the Bend marks his first mainstream Country album in nearly 10 years. So whether it’s the perfect country album or not, the good news remains: it is country.

As a borrowed old phrase goes, you can take the boy out of the church, but you can’t take the church out of the boy. Travis’s gospel soul pours out on the drunkard’s plea “You Didn’t Have a Good Time,” where he recounts, “You were the life of the party, but it was only in your mind / I hate to be the one to tell you, you didn’t have a good time.” The fiddly waltz “From Your Knees” further maintains the North Carolina native’s spiritual vocation. After all, the son of a turkey farmer might be slow to change his colors. But make no mistake, Around the Bend is a departure from the Christian albums Travis has been making lately. “Love Is a Gamble” brings the giddy-up of old, while the raucous and ornery “’Til I’m Dead and Gone” is a brilliant retro-country trip that recalls forefathers Gene Autry and Chet Atkins.

The consistency that Travis has displayed over a topsy-turvy 23-year career is truly remarkable. Having his ol’ faithful producer Kyle Lehning, who has produced every Travis album ever made, in tow contributes mightily to that consistency. “Finding songs doesn’t get any easier,” admits Travis, who rarely writes his own material. “Years ago, when Kyle and I started working together, he said to me, ‘You know I want to help you make the best records we can, but ultimately it boils down to you singing the songs. So if you don’t love it, don’t do it.’”

You get the sense that Travis loves these new songs, including an inspired dusting off of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.” A guy like Travis is at his best when he can simply open up and croon, regardless of the noise behind him or the genre of the album. Around the Bend’s titlemay be the most glaring example of this: against a twangy, full-band backdrop, Travis opens the album with a simple ode to growing up. “Crawl turned to a walk, walk turned to a run, run turned to a leap there in the wind,” comes off in near conversational tone, like Travis is sharing advice with a teenager on his back porch. And so it is for the turkey farmer’s son turned country singer turned actor. His gospel heart remains full, yet no pre-determined space will hold Randy Travis for long. He’s broken free and made a damn near perfect country album.

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