One of the hallmarks of a great singer, as well as a great song, is the ability to strip away the slick production and studio wizardry, down to the bare bones: one voice and one instrument, without any loss of impact on the listener. It used to be taken for granted that most country music artists could do this, but in the age of music videos and autotune it’s become a dying art. Travis Tritt shows the younger generation how it’s done in his new live album, A Man and His Guitar, which was recorded over two nights in Franklin, Tennessee. The two disc set is being sold on CD and DVD exclusively through his website. The audio is also available for download through the usual online outlets (Amazon, iTunes, et al).
For the most part the album is like a greatest hits collection, with a few choice album cuts, and a few tributes to his musical influences, thrown in. Travis was never as traditional as most of his fellow Class of ’89 alumni, but his love and respect of country music have never been in doubt. While his real rockers like “Put Some Drive In Your Country” (which doesn’t appear here) wouldn’t translate well in an unplugged, it’s surprising how well others like “T-R-O-U-B-L-E’ do. It’s no surprise that the ballads — always his musical strength — work exceptionally well. “Help Me Hold On”, “Drift Off to Dream”, “Anymore”, and “Best of Intention (possibly my all-time favorite Travis Tritt song) are all represented here. So are mid- and uptempo numbers such as “It’ A Great Day to Be Alive”, “Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)” and “Modern Day Bonnie and Clyde”.
Singer-songwriter James Otto joins Travis on “Lord Have Mercy (On The Working Man)” and his good friend Marty Stuart shows up for “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin'” and an instrumental number called “Pickin’ At It”. There is a lot of banter, joking and reminiscing between the two old friends.
One of the biggest applause lines comes at the end of “Country Ain’t Country No More”, an underperforming single released in 2003 near the end of his chart reign. The song laments the loss of the country lifestyle and as it is winding up to a close, Tritt explains to the audience that there were some additional lyrics that were left off the studio version:
“You turn your radio on
And you wonder what for
‘Cause country ain’t country no more ….”
Tritt also spends a good bit of time paying homage to his musical heroes — Hank Williams, Jr (“The Pressure Is On”), Bobby Bare (“Five Hundred Miles Away From Home”), and Waylon Jennings (“Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way” and “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys”). He also does a very slowed-down version of “I Walk The Line”, which works surprisingly well as a ballad, but nothing can compare to Johnny Cash’s original version.
Travis’ voice sounds a little gravelly in spots but it hasn’t lost any of its power or its ability to touch the listener’s soul. This is a generous collection that plays for nearly two hours and there’s not a dull moment to be found. I highly recommend it.