Album Review – Travis Tritt’s “Set In Stone”

photo: Jimmy Cowart

“Set in stone” is a good way to describe the career arc of Travis Tritt, or the lack of one. He started out as a member of the Class of ’89 by putting some drive into country, and never really stopped. This attitude and approach drove him to the top of the mainstream super fast, but as the music evolved away from his sound and style, he kept soldiering forward, mullet and all. Soon the albums stopped selling as well, the singles stopped getting played, and one of the most successful artists of the 90s was put out the pasture.

At that point, why even fuss with albums and singles? You still have a loyal fan base since you never sold out or compromised your sound, even if it’s smaller than when you were at your peak. So just focus on playing live shows. After all, that’s where the money in music is these days. And Travis Tritt is good enough to entertain an audience with just an acoustic guitar. Then all of a sudden, some 14 years have gone by without a studio release.

But one grace for the music artist who refuses to change is the retrospective music often enjoys some 25 to 30 years later. With artists as far ranging as Dierks Bentley to American Aquarium releasing 90s inspired country albums, what better time for Travis Tritt to reemerge? He even appeared on Dierks’ Hot Country Knights album himself.

Choosing to work with Dave Cobb here was not just a default decision. Those who know Dave know he will tackle a project from most any sector of music, but his sweet spot is the soulful side of country and Southern rock, indicative of guys like Chris Stapleton. This makes Dave Cobb an ideal conspirator for Travis Tritt, and starting with the first song on this new album called “Stand Your Ground,” the auspicious chemistry is clearly present.

Inspired by a true life conversation Travis Tritt once had with Waylon Jennings about refusing to listening to the suits—which Waylon also spoke about in his autobiography—“Stand Your Ground” sets this album off like a fire, and gets your attitude right about what’s in store, which is some hard-driving Southern country rock, often punctuated by self-affirming lyricism, for better and sometimes worse.

If you’re one of these dudes who refuses to come down off the mountain for anything, this record will have you pumping your fist. It’s exactly what you want and expect from Travis Tritt. But let’s be honest, some things that used to be are probably better as bygone. One of the early songs from the album “Smoke in a Bar” tries to set the right tone about some of the things we’ve lost in modern life, but are smoking in public places and seat belt wearing really the best subjects to be railing against in 2021? I for one am ecstatic I can go listen to a local singer songwriter, and not come home with my favorite pearl snap smelling like emphysema. Then again I’m not a smoker.

It’s the prickly, opinionated attitude of Travis Tritt that has made him a folk hero to many, and a villain to many others. Similar to Jason Isbell, Tritt’s social media persona is the filter many people’s opinions on his music get run through, understandably so due to his outspoken nature, but also unfairly for a truly objective regard to the music. The Hank jr.-inspired “Ghost Town Nation,” and the affirming “Southern Man” will have some decrying this whole effort if they ever even gave it a chance in the first place, or perhaps they’ll even levy accusations of coded language against it.

But if you put all the extracurricular stuff aside, Set In Stone feels like a really solid and inspired mid career selection from Tritt, well-produced by Cobb, with some great instrumental performances, and no signs of rust or heavy wear from the time away. Songs like “Leave This World” and “Better Off Dead” show a more sentimental and understated side of Travis we don’t always see. And despite one of the central themes of the record being Tritt’s uncompromising and unapologetic inclinations, the song “Ain’t Who I Was” written by Brent Cobb and Adam Hood speaks to the ability to evolve, especially when it comes to affairs of the heart.

Working with Brent Cobb and Adam Hood on multiple tracks, as well as Channing Wilson, Dillon Carmichael and others injects Set In Stone with a fresh and relevant perspective, along with bestowing an opportunity to these deserving songwriters. The early tracks had you worried this album may be monochromatic in theme and message, but it shows surprising depth by the end.

Undoubtedly though, this is a Boomer record, and in more ways than one. Even the cover feels a bit drab and outdated. But that is Travis Tritt’s clientele, both from those that first heard him in the 90’s, to those just now discovering that era in country for the first time. Yes, Travis Tritt’s legacy is already “set in stone” as he says in the title track. But this new album chisels in a few more details.

1 1/2 Guns Up (7.5/10)

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