When Randy Travis released "A Few Ole Country Boys" in 1990, it was plain to see the message of his duet with (and ode to) the legendary George Jones hit close to home. Just a few years removed from his stint as a cook at Music City bar The Nashville Palace, Travis' delivery of lyrics such as "Not too many years ago/When dreams weren't comin' true/I'd reach for inspiration/Sometimes it would be you" carried heavy-hitting meaning by the budding star.
Twenty-five years since he helped to usher in the neo-traditional country movement of the '80s, it's somewhat of a full-circle moment to hear Jamey Johnson sing those same lines to Travis on "Anniversary Celebration," a compilation of duets crafted around the singer's trademark baritone. That track is just one of many highlights on the star-studded record, which seamlessly blends new material with Travis' steel-laced, storytelling catalog.
Cases in point: Zac Brown Band effortlessly adds a touch of down-home bluegrass charm to Forever and Ever, Amen, while Kenny Chesney and Carrie Underwood deliver unusually refined renditions of He Walked on Water and Is It Still Over?, respectively. Travis and mini-me Josh Turner has fun one-downing each other with impossibly low notes on the new T.I.M.E, and Brad Paisley romp Everything and All is at once sexy and reverent.
However, the moments that morph the album from a friendly walk down memory lane to a true musical event come in the form of a medley and a sing-along. When Travis and fellow nineties superstar Alan Jackson combine Better Class of Losers with Jackson's She's Got the Rhythm (And I Got the Blues), it's impossible to deny the laid-back magic of the pair as both co-writers and singers. Similarly, when Travis teams up again with Jones and a chorus of Lorrie Morgan, Ray Price, Connie Smith, Joe Stampley and Gene Watson on the bittersweet Didn't We Shine, the effect is an other-worldly tribute to the generations of artists who helped shape the legacy of the country genre.
Despite its lukewarm Kristin Chenworth duet Love Looks Good on You and the forced Too Much with James Otto, "Anniversary Celebration" is a more than fitting tribute to Travis' long history in country music by just a snippet of the roster of today's artists he has inspired.