Since contemporary country records have little to do with sounding like country music from any other era -- other than the use of pedal steels, fiddles or banjos in their instrumentation at times -- it's a wonder that Travis Tritt, one of those responsible for ushering in the current era and a hitmaker of major proportion, is no longer with a major record label. It just doesn't make sense. Tritt was considered one of the "new traditionalists" back in the day. Whatever. He could still rock harder in his approach to the country tradition (without forsaking honky tonk or rockabilly in the process) than most any mainstream pop band. And while he isn't Merle Haggard, he is still a hell of a songwriter when he wants to be. As a performer, he is second to none. Not to take anything away from the considerable monolithic talent of Tim McGraw, but the latter may never have ascended the heights of the Nash Vegas and pop pantheons if Tritt hadn't come first. The Storm is Tritt's very first studio recording as an independent artist. Issued on the Category 5 imprint, the set is solid from top to bottom and offers a listen to the singer/songwriter as a thoroughly modern performer in the new country mold without giving up an ounce of his integrity or his backwoods character. What's more, he proves he can sing the blues and funk, too. The Storm is not a recipe for a disaster. It is an almost perfectly balanced recording with four strong originals, a few fine tunes by Diane Warren, and a killer cover of Hank Jr.'s "The Pressure Is On." It's got a wonderful equanimity between up- and mid-tempo tunes with a ballad or two thrown in for good measure.
The set begins with "Mudcat Moan (Prelude)/You Never Take Me Dancing," the album's first single. It's got plenty of Fender Rhodes and a popping bassline, acoustic and slide guitar, and a chorus of female voices bringing home the refrain. It's funky, bluesy, gritty and full of soul. Tritt can shout the country funk better than anyone and the proof is in the grooves. The message tunes are here, too. His reading of Diane Warren's "(I Wanna) Feel Too Much" is utterly believable in the grain of Tritt's voice. It's a stunner, an anthem: it will no doubt be used in some Hollywood film at some point. Likewise the bluesy roots rocker "Doesn't the Good Outweigh the Bad," written with Richard Marx (remember him?) which swaggers and strolls with a cocky confidence that makes it a prime candidate for a second single and/or video. The title track, kicking off with a dirty electric guitar, a Hammond B-3, and a slamming backbeat is a woolly rocker. But the ballads are certainly here too: "What If Love Hangs On," written with Rob Thomas, is a convincing love song written in a time of trouble and committed to working through it. Tritt's big and throaty voice has just enough rasp to make him a singer who can get his lyrics across with conviction without sounding canned or corny. Because "Something Stronger Than Me" is an affecting ballad -- complete with strings in the backdrop -- it offers a tale of vulnerability that simply lays waste to the competition. The track is a moving narrative about trying to hang on, about desperation in the face of things that are uncertain and shaky. "The Pressure Is On," with its acoustic guitar entry, B-3, and harmonica moan is as tough and unrepentant as the original, but sounds less boastful. It feels like a paean to commitment and dedication, and does it ever work! Full of the blues and hardcore country sentiment it's one of the best tunes on the set. "High Time for Getting' Down" is a modern country boogie with the fiddle in the right place but which is rightfully overpowered by rock & roll guitars. Rather than close out on a ballad, Tritt follows this with the other bookend on the album, "Somehow, Someday, Someway," which is introduced by the burning electric blues guitar of Kenny Wayne Shepherd (who co-wrote the track). It's ferocious; the only thing that grounds it is the honky tonk piano fills in the middle and a swelling B-3. Shepherd isn't the only star who offers his talents here: drummers Kenny Aronoff and Vinnie Colaiuta, pedal steel and dobro whiz Greg Leisz, and keyboardist Matt Rollings also contribute, as does Charlie Daniels on his fiddle. Tritt and Randy Jackson co-produced The Storm, and the wild thing is, left to his own devices, Tritt's come up with one of the high points in his storied career. This is a contemporary country masterpiece.