By Hal Horowitz
The singer’s confident voice and diversity in material display how much we’ve missed his presence in country music. It’s delightful to hear that he hasn’t lost a step.
It is well past time for a comeback from Travis Tritt.
His last studio album, 2007's The Storm, was released a staggering 13 years ago. Then, to make matters more complicated, the independent label it was released on went belly-up. It left one of Tritt's finest collections in limbo, all until he self-released it (with the revised title The Calm After…) on his own Post Oak imprint in 2013. Hopefully, Set in Stone, a roaring and long-awaited return, won't suffer those frustrating business woes.
Georgia born and raised Tritt was somewhat inaccurately lumped in with peers such as Clint Black, Alan Jackson and even Garth Brooks when he hit his commercial peak in the early ‘90s. As the only one of that crowd to not don a trendy cowboy hat (his cringe-inducing mullet from those bad hair days hasn’t withstood the test of time), he embraced a rebellious bluesy Southern rock and raw Honky Tonk attitude that made him unique during those years. It also made him wildly popular – selling over 30 million albums in the process.
This time around, it doesn’t hurt having award-winning Americana producer and rabid Tritt fan Dave Cobb (Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, about 100 others) behind the boards to help the process. ‘Stand Your Ground’ sets the tone for an album where eight songs are co-written by Tritt, with many capturing his defiant and individualist nature despite none of them being written alone. That’s certainly the case with the first track, as he recounts advice he once received and still adheres to, declaring “…them suits don’t buy your tickets / it’s the everyday blue-collar folks that do / still do it my way / works every time” against a gutsy and swampy Skynyrd beat. The same goes for the Allman Brothers-esque ‘Southern Man’, where he proudly boasts of his roots in the red clay area of the States, while ‘Way Down in Georgia’ name-checks statewide icons like Duane Allman, Gladys Knight and Otis Redding like a gratified citizen would.
Nevertheless, the most affecting moments are when he considers the serious side of life. Its exquisite ballads on maturation and redemption like ‘Open Line’ and ‘Ain’t Who I Was’ display how effectively Tritt conveys reflections on life with disarming, down-home honesty. The touching waltz-time story ‘Better Off Dead’ tells of a husband whose love for his child keeps him from possibly committing suicide, all before an impending divorce. Meanwhile, the moving ‘Leave This World’, a co-write with Ashley Monroe, is a bittersweet if slightly schlocky look at an ageing couple who hope not to be separated by impending death (“I pray that we leave at the same time / your hand inside mine”).
Longtime fans will be thankful little has changed musically on this superb and overdue return to the studio. While Tritt hasn’t gone anywhere - having continued playing shows during the extended absence from recording new music - it’s a treat to have him back, especially since his generally stripped-down approach is as fresh and potent now as when he was setting the charts on fire. The singer’s confident voice and diversity in material display how much we’ve missed his presence in country music. It’s delightful to hear that he hasn’t lost a step.
Travis Tritt's new album, 'Set In Stone', is released 5/7 via Big Noise Music Group.