My Kind of Country

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Album Review: Randy Travis – ‘Always and Forever’

Striking while the iron was hot, Warner Brothers released Randy Travis’ second album just 10 months after Storms of Life hit stores. Four singles found their way to #1 while the album itself spent an incredible 43 weeks at the top of the Country Albums chart. Always and Forever would go on to sell more than 5 million copies, making it Travis’ most successful studio album. Kyle Lehning’s crisp traditional production is again the perfect showcase for Travis’ crooning baritone, but the song selection isn’t as top-notch this time out, probably due to the hurried release.

Leading off the album was the perennial wedding song and radio recurrent “Forever and Ever Amen”. The Don Schlitz and Paul Overstreet tune features a talking steel guitar and infectious melody, plus some downright charming lyrics – “as long as old men sit and talk about the weather, as long as old women sit and talk about old men” – that all conspire to make it a lasting favorite. Likewise charming is the third single, the plucky “Too Gone Too Long”. It also benefits from some crack guitar picking, and itsĀ matter-of-fact message to a departed lover to stay gone.

“I Told You So”, the album’s final single, is my favorite Randy Travis hit. As the singer starts cold with a list of “suppose I’s” in the acoustic first verse, he ponders the response to his hypothetical questions in the soaring chorus. The cry of the steel guitar says he’s right in his assumptions of what she’ll say to him. After riding this self-penned hit to #1 in early 1988, Travis would make his last appearance to date in the country top 10 as a guest vocalist on Carrie Underwood’s cover of the song in 2009.

Sandwiched in between those three winning singles was the plodding and sloppy title track, also titled as “I Won’t Need You Anymore”. Here, the narrator is telling the woman he loves all the hell-freezes-over scenarios when he won’t love her anymore. The mournful sound of the fiddles and steel here belies its romantic message, and it all seems like a waste of radio promotion in my opinion. Promotion that should have went to the excellent Kent Robbins/Susan Longacre tune “The Truth Is Lying Next To You”, with a smooth easy melody and more substantial, if simple, lyrics that speak of proving one’s love by your actions, rather than pretty words. In this particular situation, this guy is out to prove all the fencepost gossips, who say he’ll return to his wild ways, wrong.

Like the singles, the album tracks here are hit and miss, but hit more often than not. Dennis Linde’s blithe take on a woman’s rebuffs after a one-night stand, “What’ll You Do About Me” make for a grin-inducing toe-tapper, while “Good Intentions”, co-written by Travis with Marvin Coe and Merle Haggard features very Haggard-esque overtones in both melody and lyrics. Themes of mama, regret, and looking back with clearer vision are prominent as a man looks back on his mistakes, set to another smooth country melody, and peppered with some great one-liners.

Because Randy Travis’ star was burning bright when it was released, and due to the staying power of the first and last singles, Always and Forever passed its predecessor in terms of commercial success, but doesn’t match it in terms of artistry. Still despite a couple of missteps, this is a very strong album overall, and certainly proved Randy Travis to be immune to the crippling sophomore jinx.

Grade: B+

Buy it at amazon.