My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Single Review: Randy Travis with Joe Nichols – ‘Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum’

possumVirtually every country artist that has emerged during the past 30 years has claimed to have been influenced by George Jones, so it was inevitable that the legendary singer’s recent death would spawn a series of tributes. One would be hard pressed to tell from listening to the music of a lot of these “fans” that Jones had any influence over them at all, but there is no doubt that Randy Travis’ admiration for the late singer was sincere. It is therefore, entirely appropriate that he is among the first, if not the first, major country star to release a Jones tribute single.

Written by Keith Gattis, “Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum” is, as one might expect from a song about George Jones and sung by Randy Travis, a traditional country number. It is sung from the point of view of a grieving Jones fan who, fueled by cigarettes and alcohol, vows to spend however long it takes to go listen to the entire Jones discography. The tone is one of unabashed reverence, and references are made throughout to some of Jones’ biggest hits — “Bartender’s Blues”, “Why Baby Why” and of course, “He Stopped Loving Her Today”. Though unlikely to be a huge radio hit, the record should be well received by fans of both Jones and Travis.

There is one glaring problem with this record, and sadly, it is that Travis’ voice is showing signs of substantial wear and tear and at times is almost unrecognizable. As a result, Joe Nichols was recruited as a duet partner to do most of the heavy lifting. His traditional baritone succeeds in compensating for Travis’ vocal shortcomings, and in fact the recording seems more like a Nichols vehicle with a guest vocal from Travis as opposed to the other way around. I’m glad that Joe was available to save the day — and the record — but listening to this tune makes me sad on two counts: that one of my favorite country singers is gone, and that another appears to be past his vocal prime.

Grade: B

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12 responses to “Single Review: Randy Travis with Joe Nichols – ‘Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum’

  1. Occasional Hope July 5, 2013 at 12:17 pm

    I agree completely – this is a very good song, but it’s distressing listening to Randy’s voice now.

  2. Ken Johnson July 5, 2013 at 5:24 pm

    Travis might have been the best choice for a Jones tribute song as his recent activities are truly “Possom-like.” But just like Jones at the bottom of his career Travis’ voice is now shot too. Nichols tries to save the day on this but the song is just too weak.

    I expected much better. This song is nothing special. Can’t believe that Keith Gattis would think that George would want his career to be remembered in a song about two sad drunks replaying his old records. “Who’s Gonna Fill Their Shoes” should have been the gold standard Gattis was shooting for when he started to create a Jones tribute song. Instead it’s low budget mediocrity.

    My money for a great George Jones tribute would be on Alan Jackson. I’m sure he could write something respectful but not melancholy or depressing. Surround that song with a dozen or so re-makes of Jones’ hits and you’ve got a world class tribute album! [How about a duet by Alan & George Strait on “Why, Baby, Why”?]

  3. Luckyoldsun July 5, 2013 at 5:43 pm

    Well, the whole “Playing Possum” thing–about sitting at home an playing Jones LP’s was already done by Jackson as a tribute to Jones–on his “Don’t Rock the Jukebox” album more than 20 years ago! The only difference was that Jones was alive. Jackson co-wrote the song.

    The Travis voice issue is something of a mystery. Most of the great country artists–Haggard, Willie, Cash, Dolly, Tammy (not to mention non-superstar artists like Gene Watson) managed to make some very good records in their 50’s and 60’s, even if their voices had changed some and they were no longer competing on radio. Travis is at an age where one would expect him to be able to make adult-oriented records that are artistically satisfying and appeal to his base.

    • Paul W Dennis July 6, 2013 at 1:05 am

      For once we agree, although voices do age at varying rates – Hank Locklin, Hank Thonpson and Ferlin Husky still sounded good in their 80s. Meanwhile Mel McDaniels voice was completely shot by the time he was 65 whereas Johnny Cash’s voice sounded completely shot on several 1960s albums (most notably SEA TO SHINGING SEA) but rebounded when he cleaned up his act.

      The logical candidate to do a George Jones tribute album would be Alan Jackson, although I have a sneanking suspicion that Jamey Johnson would do a good job on such a tribute

      • Ken Johnson July 6, 2013 at 1:04 pm

        Randy Travis’ vocal problems pre-date his recent difficulties. Even in his prime his live performances were often dicey. I don’t believe that his age is the central reason for his vocal issues though it may be a contributing factor.

        • Razor X July 6, 2013 at 1:36 pm

          Age shouldn’t be the reason for his vocal problems, because he is really not that old. Most male singers still sound good well past their 50s. I’m tempted to blame it on too much smoking but that doesn’t seem to have affected like Haggard, Jones himself, Waylon, etc.

        • Luckyoldsun July 6, 2013 at 3:23 pm

          It was interesting that Travis chose to sing “Didn’t We Shine?” on his own anniversary project with Jones, Ray Price, and Connie Smith among others. It wasn’t a bad performance, but I thought he was putting himself out to pasture in that song by positioning himself with artists a generation or more older than himself.

  4. Leeann Ward July 6, 2013 at 11:03 am

    Yes, this song is certainly a disappointment. It’s especially disheartening to hear randy Travis’ deteriorating voice, since he had one of the very best voices in country music. I also feel that this song is disjointed as a collaboration, because I don’t hear much collaborating between the two singers in it.

  5. Luckyoldsun July 6, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    Paul,
    I think we agree on quite a lot–I suppose my tendency is to throw in a comment when I have an opinion that’s at least somewhat contrary–I can’t just type in “I agree with you.”

    There’ve been a lot of Jones tributes done in recent years–including those Bradley Barn Sessions duets that he did with country and rock artists. Just about every country artist has a live version of “White Lightning” and “The Race is On” and every “New Traditional” artist from Travis and Patty to Sammy and Diffie has either recorded with Jones or covered a Jones song or two–so don’t think a Jones tribute album is necessary. I think the tribute albums work better for artists like Merle and Dolly–who have extensive songwriting catalogs for modern singers to delve into.

    As for those Hanks–the one who’s CD’s I have in my seat console and am likely to pop in the player while driving is Snow–who had that #1 hit at 60 or so with “Hello Love”.

  6. pete October 2, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    Disagree, I have listened to the entire cd and randy sounds as good as ever. He has never had a great voice as I have seen him live. It is unique.

    • Norm November 7, 2013 at 10:52 pm

      I think Randy was most likely developing his current medical problems when this song was made. I think it was a sincere tribute on his part. He has lived a rough life much like George Jones and his voice is prematurely giving out. I still enjoy this song and I thought Joe Nichols sounds great much like Randy in the 90s. This may be Randy’s last record so if u enjoy his music as I have enjoy this record as it may be his last. He is one of the last great traditional country voices doing his best to tribute his hero even in poor health.

  7. Pingback: Album Review: Randy Travis – ‘Influence, Vol. 1: The Man I Am’ | My Kind of Country

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