If you ever wonder what exactly happened to Travis Tritt, it's entirely possible he's asking the same thing himself. To review, there once was a time when grunge and hip hop were ascending, and millions of displaced popular music fans turned to its country cousin. Singers like Tritt welcomed the legion of new fans and never once insisted they wear a cowboy hat - he didn't either. From a debut album in 1990 to a (chock full) greatest hits in 1995, Tritt's star shone bright. But by 2002, the performance of the singles worsened. One marquis label dropped him. Then an indie brand with illegal business practices prompted an all-out legal war following the recording of just one unreleased album. That record, "The Storm" is now this one, "The Calm After..." with two extra songs, on Tritt's own label.
It doesn't take long to appreciate that Tritt's musical roots run way past the "new country" orchard. The record starts off with a bluesy improv, leading to a Richard Marx Cover (You Never Take Me Dancing). Way back when, this was the lead single, and it carries a pleasing punch. With a soulful voice of pure polished leather that can mimic the runs of the best Harlem choir, whatever happens nobody can claim a song outran Tritt's talent. But sometimes, as with the cover of The Faces' Stay With Me (one of the new songs), a track is just too branded with the original artist's stamp to claim. Producer Randy Jackson (of American Idol) tries everything - even a couple of backup singer solo riffs - but we still can't forget Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck. You will likely smile, however, at the spot-on Bocephus homage with The Pressure Is On. The outlaw identity still fits. But, Tritt has put out some legendary ballads, and can hold his own at trying a little tenderness: the moving Something Stronger Than Me shows off that side.
This isn't strictly a covers record - but the generous helping of them might lead you to that conclusion. Tritt's apparently just found a lot of tunes and artists to salute in a significant downtime from recording - it's been six years since the original "Storm" was compiled. So the world's certainly waited long enough to hear this collection. With no label or lawsuits to distract him, The Man With No Hat sounds ready to pick up where he left off.