My Kind of Country

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

Album Review: Randy Travis – ‘Influence, Vol. 1: The Man I Am’

randyA disappointing 25th anniversary album and the slightly underwhelming single “Tonight I’m Playing Possum”, as well as a general fatigue regarding the endless array of cover albums released in recent years left me feeling indifferent about Randy Travis’ new release Influence, Vol. 1: The Man I Am. In last July’s review of “Tonight I’m Playing Possum”, the only original song on the album, last July, we discussed at length Travis’ diminished vocal abilities, which further lowered my expectations for the full album.

Though the bar was admittedly set low, I was pleasantly surprised when the album was finally released last week. Though most of the songs are not that vocally challenging, I was quite pleased to hear Randy sounding better, for the most part, than he has on most of his recent recordings. Randy mostly avoids some of the obvious standards that have appeared on countless other tribute albums and dusts off some under-appreciated gems. Due to the death of George Jones earlier this year, I expected a number of the Possum’s tunes to be featured. Surprisingly, there is only one, “Why Baby Why”, which leads into “Tonight I’m Playing Possum” which closes the album. Instead, Travis digs deeply into the catalog of Merle Haggard for inspiration. Five of the album’s twelve cover tunes are some of the Hag’s lesser-known numbers, while the remaining songs are remakes of hits by Ernest Tubb, Waylon Jennings, and Lefty Frizzell. In addition, Randy reaches outside the genre for a few numbers: Louis Armstrong’s 1926 jazz hit “Butter and Egg Man” which is given a Western swing arrangement, and “Pennies From Heaven”, a pop standard first introduced by Bing Crosby in 1936. Both of these tunes are creative stretches for Travis, and both are extremely well done, with the Armstrong tune arguably being the best track on the album. Also included is “Trouble In Mind”, a blues standard dating back to 1924, which was later covered by both Haggard and Jones. It is one of the few tracks on the album were Randy’s vocal difficulties are apparent.

Ernest Tubb’s “Thanks a Lot” is given a by-the-numbers faithful-to-the-original treatment, while Travis’ interpretation of Waylon’s “You Asked Me To” is a little short on outlaw attitude. His take on Lefty Frizzell’s “Saginaw, Michigan”, however, is outstanding, though I could have done without the 1960s-style background singers. Randy has always named Lefty as one of his big influences and I would like to hear him sing more from the Frizzell catalog.

It is the Haggard tunes, however, that are the meat and potatoes of this album. If there are any criticisms of Influence, it is that it is a little Haggard-heavy. On the other hand, it’s nice to see Merle finally get his due; every male country singer to emerge during the past twenty years has claimed to have idolized George Jones, while the equally important Haggard usually went unmentioned.

The album opens with “Someday We’ll Look Back”, which Merle took to #2 in 1971. “What Have You Got Planned Tonight Diana” was originally released as the B-side to 1976’s “Cherokee Maiden”. Its lyrics are the deathbed reminiscences of an Alaskan homesteader as he prepares to join his departed wife. It is a beautiful number and is my favorite of the Haggard tunes included here. “Ever-Changing Woman”, written by Dave Kirby and Curly Putman is an obscure album cut mined from 1980’s Back to the Barrooms. It’s surprising that no one ever had a big hit with this song. “My Mary”, which is also quite well done, is from 1983’s Pancho and Lefty. “I’m Always On A Mountain When I Fall” is the the best-known of the Haggard songs included here and like the others, it is a pleasure to listen to.

I’m trying not to read too much into the inclusion of the words “Volume 1” in the album’s title, since I can think of numerous examples where a “Volume 1” was never followed up with any sequels. I do hope that a second set is planned, though that will depend on how quickly Randy recovers from his recent health problems. In the meantime, there is more than enough here to keep his fans happy.

Grade: A

7 responses to “Album Review: Randy Travis – ‘Influence, Vol. 1: The Man I Am’

  1. Occasional Hope October 8, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    I was very pleasantly surprised by this, too, and enjoyed it a great deal.

    I did wonder if perhaps Vol II (if it materialises) might be intended to pay tribute to his gospel influences (with a twin title something like The Man I Want To Be).

  2. Luckyoldsun October 9, 2013 at 12:15 am

    Merle Haggard is “finally getting his due” and mostly “went unmentioned” during the past 20 years.
    Huh??

    Back in the 90’s or so, the obligatory name-check in country songs changed from “Hank and Lefty” to “Haggard and Jones.” You’d hear that phrase on country radio constantly. And I could barely begin to count the artists who saluted Haggard. Some that come to mind: Clinton Gregory, (with the great line: “Between the bar tab and the jukebox, my money’s all been spent/ and I’d vote for Merle Haggard for President”), Lee Roy Parnell (“Like telling Merle Haggard ’bout a one-night stand”), Vince Gill (“Real Mean Bottle”), Ronnie Dunn (“Hey Haggard”) all paid direct tribute to Merle. Heck, Eric Church actually sang “I Pledge Allegiance to the Hag.”!

    In addition, there were two major Haggard tribute CD’s that most of the top artists were part of. And Alan Jackson’s covers album “Under the Influence” was also heavily into Haggard.

    There are plenty of country greats who became forgotten or ignored–Ray Price? Faron Young?–but to claim that Haggard has not been adequately remembered or saluted is bizarre.

    • Razor X October 9, 2013 at 6:17 am

      All I was saying is that Haggard, until recently, hadn’t received the same level of adulation as Jones, despite being equally deserving.

  3. Paul W Dennis October 9, 2013 at 6:45 am

    I would say that the current generation of country stars isn’t as into Haggard as the generation of the 1980s and 1990s . I look forward to hearing this album

    Two recent worthwhile tributes are Curtis Potter’s tribute to Ray Price and Neal McCoy’s salute to Charley Pride, both long overdue

  4. Luckyoldsun October 9, 2013 at 8:21 pm

    Paul
    The current generation of country stars isn’t as into COUNTRY MUSIC as the generation of the ’80s and ’90s were. What else is new?
    But Merle, Cash, Waylon don’t lack for tributes from modern stars–whether they’re sincere or not!

  5. Pingback: Occasional Hope’s top 10 albums of 2013 | My Kind of Country

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