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Randy Travis

Full Circle – 1996 (Warner)

Reviewed by Don Yates

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CDs by Randy Travis

Randy Travis may very well be the finest country vocalist of the last 10years. His vowel-stretching honky-tonk moan is rooted in the style of Lefty Frizzell with nods to Haggard and Jones, while its rich subtlety places him above the rest of his contemporaries and in the company of the greats.

Unfortunately, his immense vocal gifts haven't prevented him from makinguneven records ranging from brilliant ("The Storms Of Life") to mediocre ("High Lonesome"), though his most recent one ('94's "This Is Me") was a solid piece of work that deserved more attention than it received.

Travis's new album continues his recent upswing by focusing on the no-frills honky tonk that he does best. The title suggests his intention to return to his hardcore roots. For the most part, he succeeds. The album kicks off with the uptempo "Highway Junkie," and its rootsy honky-tonk sound and lyrical theme of the road as respite for life's troubles are pure country. The disc also includes a number of honky-tonk ballads allowing him to stretch out and show off the richness of his vocal prowess. Travis co-wrote three of the better ballads, but best of all is the classic-sounding "Are We In Trouble Now," the single penned by Mark Knopfler.

A couple of gimmicky uptempo songs aimed at the HNC crowd ("Would I," "If It Ain't One Thing It's Another") and the trite philosophizing of its closer ("Ants On A Log"), uncomfortablyclose to being a downhome version of "Dust In The Wind," mar the album. Still, "Full Circle" demonstrates that Travis remains head-and-shoulders above most of the Nashville crowd.