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Christian Music - Reviews, News, Interviews

Rise and Shine

  • reviewed by Andy Argyrakis Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2002 1 Oct
Rise and Shine
Sounds like … traditional country with southern gospel influences-for fans of George Jones, Merle Haggard, and The GaithersAt a Glance … Travis follows up his mostly covers collection, Inspirational Journey, with a similar-sounding batch of originals, also with a spiritual slant.

These days in country music, artists leaning towards a more traditional, roots-oriented sound are the definite minority. There's either the group of pop-country divas who water down such sounds (Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Lee Ann Womack, and Jo Dee Messina) or the combative movement boasting a rebel-like alternative insurgence (Lucinda Williams, Robert Earl Keen, Patty Griffin). In recent years, Americana's preserving grace was the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, while the subsequent Down From the Mountain tour recording resurrected the careers of esteemed artists such as Ralph Stanley and Emmylou Harris. Those back-to-basics, stripped-down collections also paved the way for the rebirth of roots-oriented country rockers who had since been turned away from an industry concerned mostly with the next airbrushed pretty face or equally marketable mutineer. After 13 million records sold in the '80s alone and several number one hits throughout the early '90s, Randy Travis recently has experienced a career rejuvenation, starting with his traditional Americana-based blend of country and southern gospel on Inspirational Journey (a collection of mostly old-time hymns and standards), followed by 2002's Rise and Shine.

The newest project on Travis' comeback trail maintains a similar harmony between traditional sounds and spiritual leanings, and instead of remakes, Rise and Shine is full of 13 originals. Despite Travis' continual exploration of Christian subjects, southern-gospel purists and more conservative listeners may raise their eyebrows at this primarily mainstream star's seemingly sudden conversion. However, Travis quickly will explain that faith has been an integral part of his life, one that's been nurtured and cultivated over the years by his wife, Lib Hatcher. Travis will be the first to admit that before she came into his life, he'd often indulge in many of life's temptations (particularly drinking) with reckless abandon. Although he was far from God's will, perhaps that previous path is what makes the characters in his songs (everyone from a prostitute to an illegitimate son to a husband who refuses to attend church) seem authentic and easy for non-believers to identify with.

It's that son who was born out of wedlock that starts off the disc ("Raise Him Up") with a subtle steel guitar and a sea of backing vocalists to assist a storyline comparable to Joseph's relationship with Jesus. Even though Joseph wasn't Jesus' birth father, he obeyed God's calling to raise him nonetheless, serving as the ultimate example for a new parent who might otherwise neglect his or her baby simply because of less than ideal circumstances. "If You Only Knew" also touches on the life and death cycle, chronicling the emotions of a family watching their grandfather die. Throughout Travis' roughneck tenderness, the emotional tale unfolds, reminding us to make the most of our time on earth with our loved ones before it's too late. Such a scenario builds a thematic bridge to "I'm Ready," a song about always being prepared, not only for when the Lord wills to take our loved ones or us from this earth, but for the moment of his glorious return. It's on this selection that the somber and melancholy mood of the former is spiced up with a honky-tonk hoedown of celebration. The title cut also boasts such fingerpicking fury and an overjoyed attitude, praising the Lord for his resurrection and encouraging listeners to take up their cross daily. That guitar-picking pattern later is replaced with the fiddle-friendly "Keep Your Lure in the Water," during which Travis sings of witnessing to others: "Keep your lure in the water, don't just sit by the shore / There are souls to be caught everywhere in this old world / Go where hearts are plenty, don't just drift with the tide."

As memorable as the metaphors between lures, tackle, and witnessing are, it doesn't extend as neatly into another key track on the album, "Pray for the Fish," a rather clichéd song about baptism and renewal. The meshing of steel guitars, fiddles, and Travis' especially forced drawl seem rote and uninspiring compared to some of the album's more uplifting and inventive arrangements. Such predictable moments also occasionally pop up on the dull acoustics of "That's Jesus" and the almost identically structured "The Gift," both of which settle for obvious spiritual truisms instead of the creative and thoughtful lyrics that enhance the rest of the album.

Travis may not score during every moment on this 45-minute collection, but he does provide a necessary link between his loyal, potentially unchurched fan base and the timeless gospel messages that made him come to the faith. He's also one of the few country singers maintaining the legacy of legends such as Merle Haggard, George Jones, and Lefty Frizell. Those who already own Inspirational Journey will note that Rise and Shine is its companion recording, filled with more personal and down-to-earth stories that quite possibly can lead listeners to begin a spiritual journey of their own.