Not having heard Randy Travis' new material, one could mistakenly think a guest vocalist was taking the first licks of "I'm Movin' On," his new album's opening cut. Is that Hank Snow? No, can't be. Refrain ... still the same voice. Second verse - oh man, that's Randy Travis! Wow, his voice sure has changed. Well, yeah, when you've been singing professionally since the mid-1980s, the ol' pipes can slip a bit. And Travis, 54, has battled serious health issues too. A stroke due to congestive heart failure has threatened his career.
"Vol. 2" was recorded beginning in late 2012 before Travis' life-threatening health issues last year. Longtime friend and producer Kyle Lehning adeptly guides the reedy strains of Travis' once honey-thick, rumbling baritone, bathing his voice in traditional country. Travis shows he's a wily veteran singer who still knows how to vocally dip and sway with a stellar collection of hard-boozing, lost love and love-struck classics. Lefty Frizzell's "That's the Way Love Goes," Hank Sr.'s "Mind Your Own Business," a couple of classic Kris Kristofferson cuts, Wayon, the Hag ... they're all treated with care and reverence by Travis.
Oh, and the voice still drops it like it's hot. Check Travis hitting obscenely deep bass notes on Vern Gosdin's "Set Em Up Joe." Travis finally closes up the 13-song set with "Tonight I'm Playin' Possum," a poignant, clever, tribute to George Jones.
Even as "Playin' Possum" played, one is still gravitated to the stark difference in Travis' voice. Hey, it was one of the most recognizable voices throughout the '80s, '90s and into the new century. Yet with the changes, it's Randy Travis still commanding a presence, compelling you listen as one of country's most marvelous voices rolls from song to song, no matter how many times through you play it.