Album Review: Randy Travis – Around the Bend

Matt Clark | July 8th, 2008

Randy Travis - Around The Bend After more than twenty years in the business, should it surprise anyone that Randy Travis knows how to make a country album?

Testament to his near-legendary status is the fact that, even in the iTunes age, Travis still knows how to sequence an album. Thus, he begins Around the Bend, his first country project in nine years, with the title track, which opens by playing on country fans’ anticipation about what lies ahead, and ends it with “‘Til I’m Dead and Gone,” which ought to answer any questions about how long Travis plans to stay in the country game.

Of course, Randy Travis is returning to a genre that’s far different than the one he left in 1999. Travis’s themes, if not his sound, have changed as well, and in discerning Travis’s motivations it’s difficult to disentangle current commercial realities from habits inculcated during Travis’s prolonged gospel foray. Around the Bend lacks the starkness that characterized Travis standards like “I Told You So” and “Reasons I Cheat.” There’s not much heartbreak on this album, and that which exists is of the salvific nature, such as the subject of “From Your Knees,” who manages to wring a religious conversion out of “empty closets and empty drawers, and a tear-stained note on the kitchen floor,” and “Turn it Around,” which finds Travis missing his woman but resolving to win her back rather than wallowing in her leaving. The best of these songs is “You Didn’t Have a Good Time,” in which Travis invokes some of the moral authority that he earned in five consecutive gospel albums to call upon a drunken reveler to “take a good hard look in the mirror and drink that image down / I’m the truth that you can’t run from, I’m the conscience you can’t drown.”

Unfortunately, Travis’s two radio releases aren’t representative of the quality nor the tone of the remainder of the album. “Faith in You” is lyrically clumsy and “Dig Two Graves,” while a beautiful ode to marital love, is much more sentimental than downright frivolous but delightfully country songs like “Everything That I Own (Has Got a Dent)” and “Every Head Bowed,” a ditty about the trouble that a church boy can get into when his elders aren’t looking.

Travis hasn’t quite reached the age when some legends begin to lose the voices that made them famous, but some fans may still be unhappy with his vocal performances on Around the Bend. It’s hard to tell whether Travis’s voice has deteriorated or he has simply chosen to approach his studio performances with a more natural, road-worn philosophy. Either way, the notes don’t ring with the same clarity that they did on Travis’s hit singles, and he relies heavily, almost to the point of overuse, on rough-hewn, wispy nasal growls (think the way he bends “memmmmmories” in “Diggin’ Up Bones”). Nonetheless, the result is not entirely unpleasant and decidedly more signature than many of Travis’s hit releases. It’s a voice worth welcoming back.

4 Stars

  1. Thomas
    July 8, 2008 at 9:48 am

    matt,

    to me the second paragraph from the bottom does not make sense: Unfortunately….. are you sure it should read like that?

    furthermore, your ****rating doesn’t seem to correspond with your verbal review. which one counts?

    did something go wrong there or is it only my brain working already in pre-vacation mode?

  2. leeann
    July 8, 2008 at 9:59 am

    The “unfortunately” maes sense to me. To me, he’s saying that it’s unfortunate that the first two singles don’t well represent the rest of the album. Then, he explains why they don’t.

  3. Matt C.
    July 8, 2008 at 10:06 am

    I think your brain’s working in pre-vacation mode.

    Lee-Ann is right. I said “unfortunately” because a. The rest of the album is better than the single releases, especially “Faith in You and b. Someone who decides to buy or not buy this album based on the two singles isn’t really making an educated decision because they’re not representative of the album as a whole.

    Both the rating itself and the text of the review count. Ultimately, because there’s only so much room for nuance in a five star rating system and one four star album may be much different than another four star album, you have to use the text of the review to interpret the rating.

  4. leeann
    July 8, 2008 at 10:19 am

    Because I’m a blind Randy Travis fan, I pretty much planned to buy this album. However, “Faith In You wasn’t my favorite of his songs, though “Dig Two Graves is better. So, I’m glad Matt assures us that those two songs aren’t indicative of the album as a whole. This makes me feel more comfortable making the purchase that I will feel compelled to make anyway, because of my compulsion to complete an album collection once it’s started (can’t have a missing album!).

  5. Paula
    July 8, 2008 at 10:24 am

    My daughter will be buying the album. She loves Randy Travis. Singing, acting, talking, whatever. If it’s Randy Travis, she wants it.

  6. Ronda
    July 8, 2008 at 10:54 am

    I can’t wait for this CD to come out. I have already pre-ordered the Deluxe Edition as well as the iTunes download with the two additional tracks.
    WB has been nice enough to let the fans hear 5 songs from Around the Bend in their entirety. Of the ones I have heard so far I think You Didn’t Have a Good Time is my favorite.

  7. Razor X
    July 8, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Thanks for the review. I was really disappointed in “Faith In You” which is the only track I’ve heard from this album. I’m glad to hear that the rest of the album is better.

  8. John Maglite
    July 8, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    Great review, Matt. I’ve noticed the change in his voice over the years, but have never quite known how to explain it. You did so very smartly.

    I’m really looking forward to next Tuesday.

  9. Hard Times
    July 8, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    I’m with Thomas — how can an album that is “not entirely unpleasant” get four out of five stars? If something is not entirely unpleasant, that suggests that a large part of it is unpleasant.

  10. Drew
    July 15, 2008 at 2:11 pm

    I think Faith In You is the best song on the album…

  11. Double-L
    July 15, 2008 at 7:24 pm

    I love that I, as usual, agree with you on this one, Matt! Previewing the album for my listeners tonight in my Taste Test Tuesday feature and I’ve chosen “You Didn’t Have A Good Time”, “Dig Two Graves” and “Every Head Bowed”. I’m also playing the Dylan tune because I love the sound Randy’s tacked onto it.

    I can find this out on my own, but does anyone know if Randy used to write some of his own tunes? I was somewhat surprised to open the liner notes and not see one song with writer creds to Randy. But maybe that’s not unusual. Like I said, I can research this, but y’all made already know!

    Overall, though… 4/5 stars feels right to me, too.

  12. John Maglite
    July 15, 2008 at 8:04 pm

    Double L:

    Randy has written and co-written occasionally over the years, including at least a couple of his big hits. I happen to have posted a piece on my blog just earlier today that answers your question more fully.

    … sorry for the plug, guys. But it’s relevant!

  13. Brody Vercher
    July 15, 2008 at 9:22 pm

    To add to what John wrote on his blog, Beverly Keel has more info on the song selection for Around the Bend.

  14. Chris N.
    July 15, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    Don’t worry, John — I’ll take any excuse to self-promote, whether it’s relevant or not.

    http://tinyurl.com/58lfhg

    Oops, did I accidentally cut and paste that? Sorry!

  15. John Maglite
    July 15, 2008 at 11:24 pm

    Yeah, but you’re Chris Neal. Who’s going to stop Chris Neal? There would be a major uprising.

  16. Chris N.
    July 15, 2008 at 11:51 pm

    Granted, I can pretty much act with impunity given my great power and immense popularity.

  17. leeann
    July 16, 2008 at 6:50 am

    Does anyone know if Randy Travis included songs from the songwriting team of Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet? They’ve contributed some of my favorite Travis songs: “Deeper Than A Holler”, “Forever And Ever Amen”, “On The Other Hand”, “Digging Up Bones”, etc..

  18. Chris N.
    July 16, 2008 at 8:24 am

    My advance has no writing credits, fwiw.

  19. leeann
    July 16, 2008 at 8:26 am

    I hate it when that happens!

  20. John Maglite
    July 16, 2008 at 9:18 am

    Sadly, there’s no Schlitz or Overstreet on Around the Bend.

  21. frozenphan
    July 17, 2008 at 8:56 am

    I bought this on the way home at the Wal-Mart last night. Best 10 dollars I’ve spent in a long time. It’s just so good to hear a whole album of good country music. And his voice shows the wear and tear of age, but I find that just adds to the wisdom and poignancy of the songs.

  22. m.c.
    July 21, 2008 at 9:31 am

    Sadly, I don’t think Schlitz and Overstreet have written together since Overstreet’s born-again conversion nearly 20 years ago.

    Here’s the CD’s songwriting credits:

    Around The Bend
    Tania Hancheroff, Marcus Hummon, Tia Sillers

    You Didn’t Have A Good Time
    Kris Bergsnes, Jason Matthews, Jim McCormick

    Every Head Bowed
    Brent Baxter, Brandon Kinney

    Love Is A Gamble
    Hugh Prestwood

    Faith In You
    Tom Douglas, Joe Henry, Matt Rollings

    Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right
    Bob Dylan

    Dig Two Graves
    Ashley Gorley / Bob Regan

    Turn It Around
    Noah Gordon, Matt Kennon

    From Your Knees
    Leslie Satcher

    Everything That I Own (Has Got A Dent)
    Tony Martin, Mark Nesler

    ‘Til I’m Dead And Gone
    Shawn Camp, John Scott Sherrill, Sarah Siskind

  23. Paula
    July 21, 2008 at 9:59 am

    My daughter bought this Saturday for her birthday (with my money, haha). I heard a couple of the songs last night (Every Head Bowed, From Your Knees, Dent) and liked what I heard. I thought Randy’s voice was pure Randy. He’s never had the ‘best’ voice but I’ve always loved it, and still do.

    Hopefully I can confiscated the CD later in the week long enough to hear it all the way through.

  24. leeann
    July 21, 2008 at 10:55 am

    Interesting observation. I just bought the album a couple of days ago. I’m still forming my opinion. I think Overstreet can still write mainstream songs since his conversion…”Some Beach” by Blake Shelton is an example. So, hopefully he and Schlitz still get together sometimes.

  25. Paul W Dennis
    July 25, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    I picked up Randy’s album about ten days ago and have listened to it a good half dozen times. It is clear that Randy has lost a little of the fullness of his voice over the last ten or so years. That said, he still sounds better than most of the male vocalists around, except on “Around The Bend” which sounds very forced.

    Unfortunately Warner Brothers picked the weakest song on this disc, “Faith In You” for the first single. “Dig Two Graves” , the second single is much better. I think that “Love Is a Gamble” should be the next single – it is the song I would have picked as the first single.

    It won’t be picked as a single, but Randy’s take on the Bob Dylan classic “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” is well executed. This isn’t the first time a country artist has recorded the song – John Anderson had an effective take on the song on his 1981 album I JUST CAME HOME TO COUNT THE MEMORIES, and Johnny Cash recorded the song in the mid-1960s

    In my area, Central Florida, this disc is getting some airplay, somewhat to my surprise.

  26. leeann
    July 25, 2008 at 10:57 pm

    Paul, I love both Anderson’s and Travis’ versions of “Don’t Think Twice.” I can’t stop playing Randy’s version these days.

    Maybe it’s those allergies that were mentioned in the round up that is effecting his voice .

  27. Drew
    July 26, 2008 at 9:36 pm

    Got back to listening through this album a couple more times, and more carefully, and “You Didn’t Have A Good Time” is a real masterpiece in my opinion. Lyrically it is as good as anything I’ve heard in a long while, and yet it still has a pretty nice melody and enough vocal work by Randy in really conveying the message.

  28. Paula
    July 26, 2008 at 10:23 pm

    Drew I agree. Didnt Have A Good Time is a very well written song. On the lighter side, I really love Everything I Own Has Got A Dent.

  29. Chris J
    August 5, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    On this CD my favortie written songs are Didn’t have a good time, Everything I Own Has Got a Dent and Dig Two Graves

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