No sky is bluer, no air crisper, no leaf greener than after a storm, and Travis Tritt is adding a musical addendum to that list with the release of The Calm After …. Part metaphor and surprisingly literal, the title is reflective of a fresh and focused start for one of the most successful and acclaimed musical creators of his era. The tumult his music has come through to get this point, however, is very real.
“I feel so humbled and blessed to be where I am right now,” says Travis, who will release the album on his own Post Oak Records. “My voice has never been stronger, I’m constantly playing and working to become a better guitar player, banjo player, vocalist and songwriter. I am honestly as excited about the creative process and performing now as I was the day I signed my first record deal.”
The highly abbreviated Tritt timeline has the young Georgian incorporating lifelong influences in Southern Rock, blues and gospel into his country during a honky-tonk apprenticeship that led him to Warner Bros. His 1990 debut Country Club and its succession of hits put him in the vanguard of the genre’s early ’90s boom. At the same time, his conspicuous lack of a cowboy hat and musical aggressiveness set him apart. The next eight albums and scores of hit singles led him to amass more than 25 million in career album sales, two Grammys, three CMA Awards and a devoted fan base that filled venues coast-to-coast.
A 2006 recording session for a Sam Moore album proved fateful when producer, musician and American Idol judge Randy Jackson complimented Travis on his vocals. The meeting led to a co-production collaboration on Tritt’s next album, which would eventually be titled The Storm. The name, unfortunately, fit in ways no one would have expected.
Released in 2007 on the independent Category 5 Records, The Storm soon became embroiled in one. The company founder was funding the label through ill-gotten revenue in his principle business. “Because of the legal problems he ran into, which eventually led to him going to jail, the promotional push dried up and the label eventually failed,” Travis explains. “The album never really got an opportunity to see the light of day. We did release a single and we got great response with reviews, but there was never a properly executed marketing or promotion plan.”
Great response is putting it mildly. People wrote, “Jackson effectively brings out the soul in the country singer on cuts that venture into gospel and blues terrain.” The Associated Press said, “Tritt roars back with The Storm.” Boston Phoenix called the album “proof that even today the difference between rural blues and rural country is just a matter of pigmentation.”
Nevertheless, the label’s demise sank the project and led to years of litigation. The final settlement, reached in 2012, remitted master recordings for The Storm to Tritt. He knew exactly what he wanted to do. “I’ve been talking about starting my own record label for five years, and it all hinged on having those masters back in my control so we could kick off with that.” Hence, The Calm After ….
Pleased as Travis was at the opportunity to re-introduce music he’d poured himself into, he was also intent on fulfilling his initial vision. Originally a 12-track release, the album’s sessions actually yielded 14 finished recordings, with the two unreleased selections being Tritt’s take on the band Faces’ “Stay With Me” and the Patty Smyth-Don Henley duet “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough.” The latter had been intended as a pairing with an established female country artist. “When we were closing out the album, the timing was off because the scheduling just didn’t work out for the short list of women I thought had the soul to make that song special. So we basically shelved it.”
Fast forward several years, and Tritt discovered that if the perfect duet partner doesn’t materialize, you can always grow your own. On a family car trip, the unreleased track came up on his iPod. “My 15-year-old daughter Tyler Reese, who had never heard the song, started singing along in the backseat. When it ended she had me play it again five or six times. I was listening to her sing it and I was impressed, but I didn’t say anything. When we got home, I told my wife that I thought she could really do a great job on this song. We agreed, so I took her in the studio last year and had her sing the female parts. I know I sound like a biased parent, but she really did nail it and the proof is in the track.”
As his daughter’s voice takes wing, Travis Tritt finds his own career enjoying a new spring. He already has plans to follow the initial release with a variety of music projects, including a new, mostly acoustic project with former No Hats Tour chum Marty Stuart. “We’ve got four tracks done on sort of a throw-back project that is on the exact other end of the spectrum from The Calm After …, which is very heavily produced,” Travis explains. “I’m playing acoustic guitar, Marty is on acoustic and mandolin, there’s an upright bass, keys, light percussion and that’s it.”
In the meantime, his performance slate is full as he rolls out a full-band production in 2013 following three years of well-received solo-acoustic shows. He’s also become a force in Atlanta sports, performing at the 1996 Olympics, two Super Bowls, a World Series Game, the opening of the Georgia Dome, the final Braves game at Atlanta-Fulton Country Stadium and, in 2013, the NCAA men’s basketball championship.
Through it all, music is still what gives him joy. “I turned 50 years old this year, strictly going off the date my mother told me that I was born,” he laughs. “I need to go back and check my birth certificate, because I don’t feel that old. In my head, I still feel like I’m 28-years-old. I have the same energy, the same amount of love for live performance and for working in the studio that I had when I was first getting started.
“The odd thing is, and I can’t explain this, but I think I’m singing better than I did in my 20s and 30s. I know it’s not supposed to be that way, but there’s just a control that comes with maturity. Plus, I’ve got a higher range now than I had when I was in my early 30s. And since we started doing the acoustic shows, people come up to me commenting on my singing or, more often, my guitar playing.
“I get that a lot. In fact, that’s how I ended up working with Randy Jackson. After I came out of the vocal booth on that Sam Moore session, Randy looked at me and said, ‘Man, I had no idea that you had that blue-eyed soul thing going on.’
“We’ve even joked about having t-shirts made up that say, ‘I Never Knew Travis…’ followed by phrases like, ‘Played The Banjo Like That,’ ‘Can Sing Like That,’ ‘Had That Many Hits,’ ‘Is That Good A Guitar Player.’, etc. You know, it’s fun,” he smiles. “At 50, to still have a career and be able to surprise people with music – I’m humbled and very thankful. It’s a God given gift.” Which is another way of saying that for Travis Tritt, it’s nothing but clear skies, open windows and dry pavement ahead.