My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Randy Travis – ‘High Lonesome’

Released in August 1991, High Lonesome was Randy’s first album not to reach #1 on the country albums chart, and his last platinum release. But if Randy’s commercial fortunes were starting to decline, this album is an artistic triumph. His voice is in great shape, and he also seems to have undergone something of an artistic rejuvenation, co-writing half the songs. The consistent quality of the material was the best he had had since Storms Of Life, and is more varied in tempo and mood than No Holdin’ Back, his last solo release.

Lead single ‘Point Of Light’, written by Don Schlitz and Thom Schuyler, was inspired by a phase in President George Bush’s inaugural address, and it was a mildly controversial choice as a single due to the political connotations, as Bush was then standing for re-election. That controversy did not prevent the song reaching #3 on the country chart. Taken on its own merits, 20 years later, it comes across as a deeply idealistic tribute to those performing good works rather than political, but is perhaps a little too earnest to stand among Randy’s classics, and while not at all bad, it is the weakest track on the album.

Randy had been touring with rising star Alan Jackson in the run-up to recording this album. They spent a lot of time on the road writing together. Alan recorded one of their collaborations (‘She’s Got the Rhythm (I’ve Got the Blues)’), and Randy included three on this album. Unexpectedly, all four songs ended up as singles. The ballad ‘Forever Together’ is a fairly straightforward declaration of renewal of love from a penitent man who has put his wife through some hard times, but has at last seen the error of his ways. It is put together quite beautifully and sensitively delivered. It was Randy’s first #1 since ‘Hard Rock Bottom Of Your Heart’, and is one of my favourite recordings of his.

The jaundiced mid-tempo ‘Better Class Of Losers’ then peaked at #2, with its preference for downhome living over city sophisticates like the protagonist’s now-ex girlfriend. ‘I’d Surrender All’, the third and best Jackson co-write, failed for some reason to impress radio programmers, just scraping into the top 20. A classic heartbreak ballad with acoustic guitar opening and sinuous steel winding through the song, this sees the protagonist devastated by his woman walking out:

I never thought I’d miss the early morning smell of hairspray in the air
All the little things I used to take for granted
Now I miss them most of all
Ain’t it funny how a woman walking out the door
Can bring a man to crawl?

Alan also donated the bouncy semi-novelty ‘Allergic To The Blues’, which he wrote with Jim McBride. One of the lesser moments, it is still fun with a light touch and ironic edge as the protagonist goes to all possible lengths to persuade his woman not to walk out.

The tenderly sung opening track ‘Let Me Try’ is a plea to a woman disillusioned by love, with the protagonist offering to restore her faith. Written by Allen Shamblin and Chuck Cannon, it is an excellent song and it is a shame it didn’t get the additional exposure of being a single. Yet another highlight is the gently wailing title track, written by Gretchen Peters, which features Marty Stuart on mandolin and Jerry Douglas on dobro, although Mark O’Connor’s mournful fiddle is the most effective part of the backing.

The playful ‘Oh What A Time To be Me’ written by Randy with Don Schlitz, has the protagonist slightly smugly reflecting on his good luck picking up his friend’s discarded lover and giving his old buddy the news. A brass section lends it a bright swingy Dixieland feel. The pacy ‘Heart Of Hearts’ written by Kevin Welch and Michael Henderson is also enjoyable, as the protagonist decides cheating just isn’t what he really wants to do deep down inside. The album closes on a high with Randy’s first gospel number, the lively acappella ‘I’m Gonna Have A Little Talk’, with backing vocals from Take 6.

This is one of my favorite Randy Travis albums, with the man at the top of his game. He is in great voice and sounds completely invested in every track, while Kyle Lehning oversees the production as tastefully as usual. It is easy to find now, both digitally and in CD format.

Grade: A+

5 responses to “Album Review: Randy Travis – ‘High Lonesome’

  1. luckyoldsun June 17, 2011 at 9:41 am

    I thought the songs on “High Lonesome” are mostly clunkers. “Forever Together” sounds generic in both words and melody. Travis already did “Forever and Ever Amen” and “Always and Forever” and this one adds nothing to what he did before. “Better Class of Losers” is clumsy. Who the hell uses the verb “to finance” in a country song about NOT being highfalutin?!.

    I’ll take “No Holdin’ Back” with its two classics, “Hard Rock Bottom of Your Heart” and “I Thought He Walked On Water”, along with “It’s Just A Mattoer Of Time” over this without question.

  2. J.R. Journey June 17, 2011 at 10:12 am

    I’ll agree with Lucky for the most part this time. All except the words “to finance” being a problem. I always liked “Better Class of Losers” and to me, that phrase fits neatly in with all the other money-spending terms dotted throughout the song. “Losers” is the only single from this album I really cared for.

    it’s interesting to note how Travis could never reach the heights set with his debut album, but also that the quality of his records steadily (albeit slowly) declined with each release.

  3. Razor X June 17, 2011 at 10:39 am

    I don’t think there’s a clunker to be found on this album. While it’s true that Travis was never able to match the quality of Storms Of Life , it’s also true that that album set the bar very high. I don’t think anybody has released an album as good as that one in the past 25 years, so I certainly wouldn’t say that the quality of his albums declined with each release. He’s only made one album that I really didn’t like — 1999’s A Man Ain’t Made Of Stone .

  4. J.R. Journey June 17, 2011 at 10:54 am

    Yes, it would have been next to impossible to match Storms of Life, let alone to build on it. But I still think that after Always and Forever, the overall quality of a Randy Travis album slowly declined with each album. I probably worded my above comment badly because I don’t think any Randy Travis album is without a shining moment or two, but they do seem to become less frequent on each one

    I haven’t listened to this one in a while, but I do remember thinking “Forever Together” was a big bore. I’ll spin the album tonight and get back to this conversation.

    • Razor X June 17, 2011 at 1:02 pm

      I think “Forever Together” is one of his best songs. After this, his albums in general were not quite as good, but I do think this is one of his stronger ones.

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