Travis Tritt burst onto the scene in August 1989, in the middle of the highly touted ‘class of 89’ that saw the debuts from a slew of artists – Clint Black, Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Lorrie Morgan – that would go on to major success in the next decade. Tritt was another in this group, although it would be February 1990 before his debut album Country Club would be released.
He came out of the gate swinging, launching his career with Catesby Jones and Dennis Lord’s “Country Club,” a jaunty neo-traditional number in which Tritt wore his allegiances to country music on his sleeve:
Well I’m a member of a country club
Country music is what I love
I drive an old Ford pick-up truck
I do my drinkin’ from a dixie cup
Yea I’m a bona-fide dancin’ fool
I shoot a mighty mean game of pool
At any honky-tonk roadside pub
I’m a member of a country club
By today’s standards, “Country Club” (a #9 peaking single) is nothing more than a clichéd list of ‘being country’ but for me, Tritt sells the song perfectly. He isn’t a rock singer trying to sell a country image and that’s the big difference. I even took out the track to close my first radio show in my first semester in college in 2006. In three minutes, it said more than any other song I could’ve played.
Tritt co-wrote (along with Pat Terry) the album’s second single and his first #1 “Help Me Hold On.” One of my favorites of his radio singles, Tritt sells the emotion of the excellent lyric flawlessly. Set to a mournful steel guitar, he makes you feel for the protagonist trying to save his marriage:
Help me hold on, to what we had
Once our love was strong, it can be again
You said it takes two, to make love last
You were right all along, so help me hold on
What have I got to do to make it better?
What have I got to do to make you see?
That even though I promised you forever
I never knew how hard that would be
I realize I took your love for granted
But I’ve learned that love worth havin’ don’t come free
And I’ll pay any price it takes to keep you
Satisfied and stayin’ here with me
Third single “I’m Gonna Be Somebody” was the first to show Tritt’s rocker side, but without sacrificing his country roots. His third straight top ten hit (it peaked at #2 in May 1990), it’s an excellent tale of a boy named Bobby who dreams of one day being a major label recording artist. I love the energy of the track, and its one of the few hits Tritt has had in this vein that hasn’t aged poorly.
Fourth single “Put Some Drive In Your Country,” which Tritt wrote solo, broke his streak of top tens, when it peaked at #28 in 1990. The track was in stark contrast to his previous singles and featured a southern rock beat complete with loud drums and guitars, which by today’s standards are very quiet. I’ve never hated the song, and it’s a lot better than the country rockers of today. The song is Tritt’s ode to a more muscular sound in his country music:
Well I was raised on country classics
Like Roy Acuff and George Jones
Lord, I loved to hear ’em
But I really got excited ’bout the time I turned 15
That’s the first time I heard Waylon and old Bocephus sing
They put some drive in their country that really turned me on
Final single “Drift Off To Dream” was seen as a return to form for Tritt, and it scored well at radio, peaking at #3 in early 1991. The harmonica laced ballad was Tritt’s first straightforward love song and he gives a very tender yet commanding vocal. It’s too bad the song is largely forgotten today, as it boasts a delicate nature that is very enduring.
Of the album tracks, Tritt wrote “Sign of the Times,” a somewhat preachy number about changing generations and co-wrote “Son of the New South,” a gothic number that wouldn’t be out of place on a Waylon Jennings album. “If I Were A Drinker” sounds like a cast-off from the late 1980s, complete with a now out of date synthesizer, while “The Road Home” is just okay.
The only interesting track outside of the singles is the bluegrass meets Charlie Daniels Band “Dixie Flyer” which has a wonderful drum beat and ribbons of harmonica throughout. It lacks the warmth of traditional bluegrass for me, but it’s a great blend of Tritt’s traditional and southern rock sides.
Overall, Country Club is an exceptionally strong album showcasing an artist ready to mix traditional country music and southern rock into a melting pot of their own concoction. I like Tritt a lot more when he keeps the proceedings on the neo-traditional side, and he mostly does that here. While not at the level of Black’s Killin’ Time, this is a fine debut from a talent who’d more than deliver in the years to come. I highly recommend it if you haven’t heard it.