Like Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt just sneaks in as a member of the Clas of ’89. Although his debut album was not released until 1990, the first single came out in 1989. Travis was less traditional than many of his peers, but he brought a distinctive, southern-rock-influenced flavor to the country charts which marked out his music. He has a big, meaty voice with a rich tone, and brings great attitude and commitment to his vocals, whether he is singing an emotional ballad or rocking out. He is also, at his best, a very good songwriter. The quality of his recorded output has varied – he has produced some excellent work, but too often he has been attracted to chugging rockers with little lyrical or melodic interest.
His debut single was rather atypical of what was to become his signature style, as ‘Country Club’ was about as traditional a honky tonk number as Travis was ever to record. The song (written by Catesby Jones and Dennis Lord) has Travis playing the part of a country boy attracted by a female member of an upscale country club, and offering his own cheerful play on the title as reflecting his own lifestyle. It is hard to dislike this song, even if one can’t take it altogether seriously. Country radio liked the story, and gave Travis his first top 10 hit.
Still apparently nervous of letting Travis’ rock side full rein, the label showcased Travis’ way with a ballad by making the next single the lovely ‘Help Me Hold On’, which Travis co-wrote with Pat Terry. It is a fine example of his vocal ability, showing he knows how to treat a song with restraint when required, as the protagonist pleads with a departing wife. Another ballad from Travis’ pen (this time with the help of Stewart Harris) is my favorite track on the album – ‘Drift Off To Dream’, a romantic dream of love as the singer fantasizes over his imagined future sweetheart:
“You’ve been here forever so clear in my mind,
I just don’t know where you are
But I know I’ll find you, but girl til I do
This is my love song for you”
This ended up as the final single released from Country Club, reaching #3 in 1991.
I also really like ‘If I Were A Drinker’, a hard-core country lament about a gold-digging ex who has taken all the narrator’s money and left him, with a beautiful tune, written by Zack Turner and Tim Nichols.
Travis set out his personal musical statement in ‘Put Some Drive In Your Country’, citing George Jones and (less plausibly as an influence on Travis) Roy Acuff, before getting to Waylon and Hank Jr, and later in the song the non-country side of southern rock in the form of Duane Allman. The single barely reached the top 30, and it is a little too rock-influenced for my tastes, but it was clearly an important song for Travis in making it clear where he stood as an artist.
He also set out his views on society in the slower ‘Sign Of The Times’, looking at the changes in American life since his father’s childhood. Social comment is always at the risk of sounding outdated after a while, and one verse here now feels slightly off-base:
“If you need to borrow money now
They want to know how many assets you can claim
It’s not like it was back years ago
When Grandpa borrowed money simply on his name”
In an age when the banks have been doing too much lending without considering potential securities this strikes a slightly dated note, although on the whole this deeply heartfelt lyric is still touching, with lines, “We’re more concerned with making money/Than staying home loving our family” still coming across as relevant twenty years on.
Travis had a more positive take on the 80s with ‘Son Of The New South’, an optimistic rocker co-written with Larry Alderman, which is probably the best of the uptempo tracks on the album, as he declares,”I hold on to some old ways, I ain’t scared to try the new/But when it comes to what I change, I’ll be the one to choose”. I also liked the closing track, ‘Dixie Flyer’, where the musicians really get a chance to stretch out without sounding too self-indulgent in the process, on a train song with the eponymous train as a metaphor for life.
Less successful is ‘The Road Home’, which has some nice harmonica fills and a nice lyric about longing for home while living in the city, but doesn’t quite convince musically. Finally, ‘I’m Gonna Be Somebody’ was another big hit for Travis (#2 on Billboard), and I may be alone in not finding the song not particularly interesting, but it seems to be a story song without much story. Written by Stewart Harris and Jill Collucci, the situation presented of a struggling musician probably felt autobiographical to Travis, and he does sing it well.
The success of Country Club and its singles helped to make Travis Tritt the winner of the CMA’s Horizon Award in 1991, and he was to go on to greater success in the years to come. The album is currently available digitally or on a re-released CD without liner notes.