Country Jukebox Jury LP: Travis Tritt – Set In Stone

I know very little about Travis Tritt. He’s on Twitter (Tritter?) constantly; he had a hit song with It’s A Great Day to be Alive which is terrific; he was friends with Marty Stuart, duetting on a great ballad called This One’s Gonna Hurt You for a Long Long Time; he got a namecheck in May We All by Florida Georgia Line; he has a moustache.

He has won GRAMMYs and CMA Awards, and in 1992 became a member at the Grand Ole Opry, where he has performed regularly. He has been married three times, with the first two coming before he was 25. He had most of his success in the early 1990s, co-writing all five of his number ones: Help Me Hold On, Anymore, Can I Trust You With My Heart, Foolish Pride and Best of Intentions. The last of these charted at number 27 on the Hot 100.

Now working with Dave Cobb, Set In Stone has been trailed by a Grand Ole Opry performance and several singles, including the chugging Ghost Town Nation and Smoke In A Bar, an outside write about how life used to be. Applause was warm from Opry congregants that night. Travis comes across like a heartland rocker who would drink with his fans after a show.

I love Stand Your Ground, a great opening track that seems like his life in a song: ‘Did it my way, worked every time.’ The guitar solo is blistering and the gospel backing vocals are typical Dave Cobb flourishes. Waylon Jennings is a key influence on the album, which rocks in a rockin’ way. I’m sure Dave was in his element, being paid to record Travis’s music. It’s a hard life being Dave Cobb, who has sculpted the Chris Stapleton sound that has sold umpteen million albums.

There’s some traditional country amid the blues and rock. Better Off Dead is a tearjerker with requisite pedal steel and a mighty fine vocal from a guy who broke through alongside Alan Jackson and Clint Black. Meanwhile, Travis pays homage to his roots on both the blues-rockin’ Southern Man (‘The one thing I’ve been all along’) and the harmonica-heavy Way Down In Georgia: ‘Born and raised where the tall pines grow…Honeysuckle dancing on the evening breeze.’

A-Listers pepper the credits. Brent Cobb was in the room for three songs: Set In Stone, all about a musician, or indeed a man’s, legacy; the reminiscin’ song Open Line, where Travis looks back on the past over soft guitars and tom-tom drums; and Ain’t Who I Was, which sounds like a Brent Cobb soulful country song with plenty of diminished chords and a strong mournful melody.

Wyatt Durrette co-wrote Stand Your Ground and Southern Man, while Ashley Monroe worked on Leave This World (‘I don’t wanna leave this world without you’) on which Travis wishes that he and his beloved die at the exact same time. It’s a country song. Ditto They Don’t Make ‘em Like That No More, a driving rock song with appropriately twanging guitars that will turn an arena (perhaps in Greenwich next March??) into a honkytonk. What a great vote of confidence in co-writer Dillon ‘Hot Beer’ Carmichael that Travis has included the cut on this album, which ought to reposition Travis as a key voice in the sound that made country music relevant in the 21st century. 

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