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Randy Travis finds inspiration

By Jeffrey B. Remz, December 2000

Randy Travis was the catalyst of the New Traditionalist movement 15 years ago when he brought traditional country music back to the fore with gazillion-selling "Storms of Life."

The man with the great voice had his ups and downs - both personally as a teen and more recently career-wise - but Travis, in his usual low-key style, is upbeat about his decidedly different album, "Inspirational Journey."

"Inspirational" as in Christian, faith or inspirational music. ButTravis' latest is not solely a case of preaching to the converted. The music is far more country than gospel with more emphasis on matters of faith and making choices than overt Christian themes.

"It 's what I wanted it to be," says Travis in a telephone interview from Los Angeles. "It's not like I'm preaching a sermon to people."

"The message is there - no doubt," he says in his native North Carolina drawl. "That's important. The writing in this album is very important to me. I wanted it to be right on the money as far as what's written in the Bible. I didn't it to be my version or anything like that."

"But at the same time, I didn't want it to be that like you're preaching to the choir. It's music that the everyday man and woman could listen to and be touched by it and consider where they are."

"It doesn't matter what faith you come from in a lot of cases - it's about living right."

This was not the first time Travis chose to explore matters of faith. His 1991 album, "High Lonesome," closed with "I'm Gonna Have a Little Talk," a gospel-oriented song written by Travis and Don Schlitz.

Travis, baptized seven years ago with wife and manager Libby, also hopes the album, released by Warner through Atlantic's Christian music division, will cause listeners to undergo a religious reawakening as well.

"Maybe some people who were like me - there wasn't a road at all," says Travis, talking openly about past difficulties. "I was so far gone. I straightened up because my wife was used to a totally different lifestyle than I was used to. No one told me to. I just wanted to."

The album was a long, long time in the making - four years. Only one song is particularly well known - the standard "Amazing Grace." Travis had a hand in writing 3 of the 12 songs.

Travis said he chose unknown songs because "that's just what I wanted to do. (Long-time producer) Kyle (Lehning) and I talked about doing standards versus doing new. I said I wanted to do new material. The folks at Atlantic were nervous about that."

The easy going, catchy lead-off "Shallow Water" starts with Travis crooning "I will not drawn in shallow water/Not with your love within my reach."

"Baptism" is slated to be released to country radio as a single, but under the name "Down With the Old Man." This is actually the second time Travis has sung it. Kenny Chesney included it on his album, "Everywhere We Go" with Travis helping out.

Travis already had recorded his own version. Chesney sent word that he wanted Travis to sing on his album. "He had done ' the song and called and asked if I'd go in the studio and sing a song with him. I said, 'sure I'd love to'...Then I got the tape, and it was "Baptism.' I said, 'I can't believe it.'"

Travis said the label "wanted more standards. It's easier to get more people's attention. So many of the great songs - 'How Great Thou Art,' 'Amazing Grace' - they've been done hundreds of time. What else am I going to do to them?"

"It was kind of like when i started recording for Warner - here were all these songs for country," says Travis. "These more country feeling things like 'Baptism' and like 'Drive Another Nail' - they were just there, and no one was recording them. I was thinking this is just great. Why hasn't someone recorded this before.? It's like when I was doing 'Storms' - no one was doing this country material."

Travis closes the album with "Amazing Grace."

"'Amazing Grace' I did because my mom asked me to. I told Kyle it's been done every way. I said let me sit down in front of the mic, with the acoustic and let me play it."

"There's no voice separation - (it's) the voice and the mic," says Travis. "He comes in and moves the mic the distance between my mouth and the guitar, made a couple of adjustments. 'Okay, let's do it. The rest, I just wanted to do original material. There's so much good material written. Why not do it? I prefer to do new stuff."

Travis' mother died before she was able to hear his version.

Travis, 41, was not exactly the model citizen growing up as Randy Traywick (he later changed it because to Travis because "it's a shorter name to write. Traywick is a long name. I was very uncomfortable with it) in the tiny town of Marshville, N.C., about 40 miles from Charlotte.

Travis was not exactly the church going kind as a youngin'.

"Not that much," he says of his church attendance. "My mom was a very good person. If you were looking for a poster child for turning the other check, she was the best I've ever seen. I went to church for a short period of time, but it didn't take. Then, I went out to the drugs and the alcohol. Just went from bad to worse."

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