Country music has changed a lot since I was a kid listening to country radio in northern Maryland. There has been an increase in crossover popularity, and there are some country fans that don't really like that at all. They figure if they wanted pop music, they'd listen to pop music. They want country, and there's a growing market for "retro" country music.
Enter Randy Travis. Of course Travis never really left his roots; even his forays into Gospel music had more than a hint of the classic country style that he built his career on. Around the Bend is a perfect example of what good country music used to be, and what it could be again.
The instrumental work on the album is outstanding, especially Larry Franklin's fiddle playing. Travis' vocals are also quite good; you can tell that he's older now, but the vocal quality is still there. There's an old-time, old-school Grand Ol' Opry sound to the album that is lacking in much of today's country-pop crossover material. I was very happy to hear it again, and it was obvious that Travis isn't doing the "retro" sound just because it's growing again in popularity; he's doing it because it's who he is. There's an honesty about it that is refreshing.
The album isn't perfect; some of the songs are nothing more than country cliches ("Love Is A Gamble," "Dig Two Graves"), and the upbeat songs seem to lack a little of Travis' old energy ("Don't Think Twice, It's All Right"). Anyone who grew up in church will absolutely love "Every Head Bowed," which is one of my favorites on the album. And as I listened to "Everything That I Own (Has Got A Dent)" I couldn't help but think "I've been there."
That, really, is the point of country music; to tell the listeners a story they can identify with. Whether it's the broken-hearted resigned depression in George Jones' "The King Is Gone (And So Are You)" or Randy Travis' true-love-forever promise in "Forever and Ever, Amen," country music is about being able to identify with what the singer is saying.
Around The Bend tells stories that are just like that; common stories of common people, the people who once upon a time were die-hard country music fans, but who are starting to wonder if country music has left them for greener pastures. People who can't identify with much of popular music, but are still looking for something to listen to.