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Travis Meadows

First Cigarette – 2017 (Blaster)

Reviewed by Jim Hynes

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CDs by Travis Meadows

The stunning vocal of Travis Meadows on the opening track, "Sideways," brims with honesty, pain and hard-earned wisdom as he offers a blend of confession and advice, stimulated by an experience at an adolescent addiction treatment center. Meadows, like many, is one of those Nashville songwriters ("Riser" for Dierks Bentley and "What We Ain't Got" for Jake Owen), but is finding his own voice relatively late in life. Having conquered substance abuse and doing time, Meadows is now about finding some peace and contentment in life. Meadows has traveled an amazing journey where he had much success in Christian music before becoming revered for his writing in country circles. He puts it this way, "I'm an orphan who turned into a preacher, a preacher who turned into a songwriter, a songwriter who turned into a drunk and a drunk that is learning to be a human being."

His deep edgy voice colors these tunes about struggles that Meadows has endured with a stripped-down sound, reminiscent at times in both voice and spare instrumentation of Springsteen's "Nebraska." There's even a Springsteen inspired tune here, "Pray for Jungleland," a warning of sort to teenagers about Friday night. "McDowell Road" bears a similar theme.

Meadows' songs have a rather curious double edge in their effect, at times haunting and yet soothing too. "Hungry" and "Better Boat" best exemplify this quality. "Underdogs" stands out with its sing-along, rather anthemic approach while Meadows then brings it all back down for the slow-building "Pontiac." Most of these tunes have a nostalgic tinge that hold out hope for youth. Meadows is not preaching. He's just trying to pass on what he knows all too well.

Long-time friend and fellow songwriter Jeremy Spillman and award-winning executive producer Jay Joyce created the stark sound of Meadows live. As powerful as many of these songs and messages are, the album tends to lag just a bit in the second half, perhaps because the earthquake effect of the opener, "Sideways." Nonetheless, there's plenty of inspiration and solace to be gained by listening.