Live albums, acoustic albums, and especially live acoustic albums are naturally relegated to the “also ran” category of music releases with their cousins of EP’s and compilations, and usually for good reason. It’s not that they can’t include some great material, but they’re usually released by artists looking for a stop gap between proper studio records, or looking to rake in a little cash from their core audience. There’s nothing wrong with either of these pursuits, but in the era of Spotify when access to music is not the hurdle—it’s seeking out what is actually worth spending your time on—you have to draw the line somewhere, and albums of original material should always receive top billing.
If anyone could burst through the prejudice against live acoustic records, it would be Travis Tritt. It doesn’t matter what you think you may know about Travis Tritt, whether you only know him through his redneck anthems like “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” and “Here’s A Quarter,” or during his heyday for being the bridge between full tilt electrified country and Southern rock with the locks of his atomic mullet whipping in the breeze of the stage fan like the tentacles of Cthulhu. When Travis Tritt straps on an acoustic guitar and sits down on a stool with a single spotlight on center stage, it’s like he’s piloting a country music battleship that 10 modern mainstream country bands and their legions of laser lights and auxiliary personnel could never match the firepower of.
Every artist has their ideal element. For Travis Tritt, it happens to be with no accompaniment. Most all of the members of country music’s famous “Class of ’89” are enjoying a resurgence of interest in their careers for one reason or another, not limited to the fact that so many true country fans are so fed up with whatever the radio is feeding them that all of a sudden Garth Brooks doesn’t sound like such a terrible option. But Travis Tritt’s version of “rehabilitation” if he ever needed one involves proving to audiences that his talent and abilities are not dependent on production or bands. And along with the songs and stories that come with the acoustic environment, you’re left with no question if adhering and preserving the traditions of country music is something Travis Tritt takes seriously, and always has. He just had to strip it all back to expose that fact to some.
It should be no huge surprise that Travis Tritt’s A Man and His Guitar is worth its muster. He’s been doing these acoustic shows for many years, and even at other shows involving the full band he’ll make sure to take some time in the set to do a few songs by himself. If anything, one may wonder why it’s taken so long for a release such as this to surface. It was recorded in 2014 at the Franklin Theatre in Franklin, TN which makes for pretty ideal environs for this project. It is just intimate enough and the acoustics are ideal, while being just big enough to entertain an energetic crowd. The narrow nature of the building also means Tritt isn’t gobbled up by trying to fill a massive stage by himself.
This 2-disc, 24-song collection culled from two separate nights at the Franklin Theatre can be consumed either via CD or DVD depending on your preference, but either one is a fine choice, or both. The DVD obviously enhances the visual experience, but the audio version leaves a bit to the imagination, which can also be fun. Despite the various camera angles and lighting effects, it does get a little tedious to watch just Tritt (and a couple of guests) for 24 installments, but it’s also interesting to see how just like all the masters of song, he really understands how to move around a microphone like it’s another instrument in itself to enhance the dynamics of the experience and create those “moments” you remember. Tritt is quite animated when he sings certain songs, and in a way that doesn’t feel imitated, but authentic in how he gets swept up into the spirit of the song. But frankly, you don’t need to see him to sense this. That soul gets stuck on the audio portion as well.
Honestly, A Man and His Guitar starts off just a little bit slow from what you might expect. As infamous as Tritt’s acoustic shows have been, there’s still no replacement for seeing music performed live and in the flesh. The album starts off with a slightly lesser-known song from him, “It’s All About The Money” from his 2004 record, My Honky Tonk History. Some interesting facts about that record: Luke Bryan actually co-wrote the title track, and Chris Stapleton had a cut on it with “Small Doses.” It’s curious how the songwriting credits on a late-career Travis Tritt record foretold who would be top in country 12 years later.
A Man and His Guitar continues with “Where The Corn Don’t Grow,” leading into Hank Jr.’s “The Pressure Is On,” and you’re still waiting a little bit for the magic to hit you. That’s when Tritt sings “I’m Gonna Be Somebody,” and makes the story of that song come alive on stage, and from there this live set holds your attention the rest of the way. Though it would have been nice to get some more interesting banter between Tritt and James Otto, their rendition of “Lord Have Mercy on the Working Man” is hard to not feel. By the time Tritt gets into the self-penned material of the first set—songs like “Here’s a Quarter” and “Help Me Hold On,” you attention is rapt.
It’s the beginning of the second take when A Man and His Guitar hits its stride. Marty Stuart joins Travis Tritt for a couple of songs, including “Whiskey Ain’t Working” that was co-written by the scarved one, and an unreleased instrumental called “Pickin’ At It.” But possibly the best part of Marty Stuart’s appearance is his story about the two budding stars during their “No Hats” days calling up an insurance salesman. I won’t give away the punchline, but this record is worth hearing just for that. This all leads into an incredible version of Greg Allman’s “Come And Go Blues” that just might be the ace vocal performance of a set full of vocal acrobatics. After running through a few covers from Cash, Waylon, and Willie, Tritt finishes up with some of his biggest hits, and leaves the crowd wanting more despite delivering on all 24 songs.
This is still a record of mostly previously-released material presented with little variety, and so many passive music listeners may not find enough reasons to put it on the top of their Christmas wish list. But A Man and His Guitar proves that Travis Tritt was much more than just a product of his time, and the tale of loud guitars and mullet tails. Put an acoustic guitar in his hand, and he’ll out perform most 5-piece bands from any era.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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