Randy Travis

Around the Bend

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Around the Bend is Randy Travis' first secular album in nearly a decade, but he was hardly inactive in the years following 1999's A Man Ain't Made of Stone. After that record, Travis settled into a gospel career, which wasn't surprising as sacred music was never far from his heart to begin with. This extended sojourn was fruitful, producing a series of good, heartfelt records, yet they also had a nice side effect of putting commercialism way on the back burner, as the gospel albums were made without the charts in mind. The same thing can be said about Around the Bend, as it stands apart from trends, not defiantly but comfortably. This doesn't quite mean that Around the Bend is a pure hardcore country record, however. There are times where things get a little sweet, even syrupy -- as on the sweeping "Faith in You," a ballad that's nearly drowning in strings -- but these play by old-fashioned rules, sounding as if they were unearthed in another era. Fortunately, the big ballads are the only time that Around the Bend feels a little creaky, as the rest of the record is blessed by a light touch that gives the album a freshness. This is most evident on tunes that rely heavily on nimble acoustic guitars, such as "Turn It Around" and a surprisingly jazzy reading of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," both excellent showcases for Travis' relaxed delivery. As always, that easy touch is Travis' greatest strength, as it gives the best songs authenticity and makes the weaker songs palatable -- and as Around the Bend is a fairly strong set of songs, it's easy to enjoy Travis' gentle authority, how he slyly delivers the punch lines on "Everything That I Own (Has a Dent)" and gives "'Til I'm Dead and Gone" a muscular pulse. These are the moments that give Around the Bend some blood and force, making it a welcome secular comeback from this peerless singer.

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