Music

Randy Travis: Anniversary Celebration

At the end, we're not sure what we've learned about country music, about duets, or, most importantly, about Randy Travis.


Randy Travis

Anniversary Celebration

Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2011-06-07
UK Release Date: 2011-06-06
Amazon
iTunes

Randy Travis' catalog of songs is still in many ways an American treasure trove. His '80s albums are especially strong, his easygoing charm putting a kind face on emotional tales of epic heartbreak and pain. This Anniversary Celebration marks the 25th year of Travis' career. It's a way of giving testimony to the enduring power of his songs, but as it stands, it mostly testifies to the idea of Travis as a legend, by putting him side by side with today's stars. Each song, except one, is a duet, with a star of some kind. That includes well-established country stars (Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney, Alan Jackson) and newer ones (Josh Turner, Carrie Underwood, Zac Brown Band); legends (John Anderson, Willie Nelson, George Jones), country-ish non-country singers (Don Henley, Shelby Lynne) and "Why are they here?" others (Broadway star Kristin Chenoweth, Christian singer Eamonn McCrystal).

In each case, the formula is to take a Travis song -- some new, some old -- and get Travis and the guest to sing it together. The pairings sometimes seem purposeful. Brad Paisley is on the song with the most prominent guitar lick ("Everything and All"). John Anderson fits naturally on "Diggin' Up Bones". Kris Kristofferson and Willie Nelson are on the song about someone who's about to hit the bottom, Kristofferson sounding like he's about to croak as he sings, "My life is in your hands / They say no one can fix broken like you can." Nelson also seems to be singing craggier on purpose. "Didn't We Shine" hauls out an assortment of past legends for a nostalgic look back -- a parade of has-beens, partly, singing a turgid, treacly song, though Ray Price still sounds awfully good. Occasionally the match-up seems too purposeful; of course it's Jamey Johnson who's singing about "A Few Ole Country Boys". Other times, the logic behind the pairing is unclear, even stupefying.

There are moments when a song, singer, or combination impresses. Kenny Chesney strikes the right note of sensitivity for "He Walked on Water", a song as sentimental as Chesney's own. A medley with Alan Jackson puts him and Travis on equal footing, and they sound natural together, like two "ole country boys" singing together on a front porch or in a small club somewhere. Tim McGraw takes over "Can't Hurt a Man", making it seem like one of his own ballads of bitterness at lost love. Carrie Underwood channels past female singers well, though the age difference in their voices does make the relationship in the song ("Is It Still Over?") explicitly May-December. Best of all, John Anderson sounds like he really has been digging up bones in a "recent broken home...gnawing on an old cold chicken leg", even if the song's arrangement doesn't play into the gravity of his voice well enough.

The duet is an art form, and country music has many, many examples of singers perfecting it -- think of all the classic male-female duet partners, but also of various classic one-offs over the years. Ultimately, very few of the duets here are all that artful. The singers take turns singing verses, or parts of verses, and sing together on choruses. But there's rarely any real reason behind the way they sing together. Their voices, with some notable exceptions, don't complement each other or come together in a way that adds meaning to the song. Instead, it's a variety show -- entertaining enough, but essentially people with great voices showing up and singing their parts well, and that's about it. It's reminiscent of the recent trend in music award shows, to put people together because an audience may want to hear them together, not because they naturally fit together, have figured out a meaningful way to combine their talents, or are working up something new and fresh.

The blandness of these songs as duets often manages to gloss over the gifts of the songs themselves -- the devotion in "Forever and Ever, Amen", for example, is stronger when it's one man expressing it, not a group singalong, with Zac Brown Band sounding especially faceless. The song choices here play up the generic side of Travis' songs, too, missing some of the truly hard-hitting story-songs and first-person devotional, heartbreaking confessions. Instead there are a lot of "I'm gonna be a better man" songs, so common in our current era of country music.

The impression at the end, with the reprise of "Everything and All", is of having watched a show rather than taken part in a real celebration. At the end of the album, we're not sure what we've learned about country music, about duets, or, most importantly, about Travis and his music.

5

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.

Culture

Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia, East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.

Music

The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.

Music

Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.

Books

For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?

Music

Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".

Music

Becky Warren Shares "Good Luck" and Discusses Music and Depression (premiere + interview)

Becky Warren finds slivers of humor while addressing depression for the third time in as many solo concept albums, but now the daring artist is turning the focus on herself in a fight against a frightful foe.

Music

Fleet Foxes Take a Trip to the 'Shore'

On Shore, Fleet Foxes consist mostly of founding member Robin Pecknold. Recording with a band in the age of COVID-19 can be difficult. It was just time to make this record this way.

Books

'We're Not Here to Entertain' Is Not Here to Break the Cycle of Punk's Failures

Even as it irritates me, Kevin Mattson's We're Not Here to Entertain is worth reading because it has so much direct relevance to American punks operating today.

Film

Uncensored 'Native Son' (1951) Is True to Richard Wright's Work

Compared to the two film versions of Native Son in more recent times, the 1951 version more acutely captures the race-driven existential dread at the heart of Richard Wright's masterwork.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

3 Pairs of Boots Celebrate Wandering on "Everywhere I Go" (premiere)

3 Pairs of Boots are releasing Long Rider in January 2021. The record demonstrates the pair's unmistakable chemistry and honing of their Americana-driven sound, as evidenced by the single, "Everywhere I Go".

Books

'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.

Music

Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor
Film

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.

Music

Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.