Checking his ego, or maybe his Protestant work ethic, at the door, Randy Travis has taken a break from writing (or at least recording) his own songs and handpicked 11 songs by an eclectic and talented array of other composers for what's being called his return to non-gospel country, Around the Bend (Warner Bros.).
At 49, Travis is in fine voice throughout, the well-worn leather of his Southern baritone complementing the rustic, mostly acoustic instrumentation as if the 22 years since his debut were no more than an eye blink. Yet while it's true that none of the songs mentions Jesus, that "Faith in You" is addressed not to God but to a woman, and that the Bob Dylan cover is "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and not "Saved" or "Gotta Serve Somebody," Around the Bend glows with a flame fueled by Travis' faith.
The lighthearted "Every Head Bowed" is set in a Sunday-morning church service and will bring a chuckle to anyone who as a child would've rather been anywhere but in a pew. "Dig Two Graves," on the other hand, will speak to any husband who's ever thought he'd rather die and follow his wife to heaven than live without her should she die first.
The going gets heavier. The husband who in "Turn It Around" watches his wife leave for what may be the last time "pray[s] that [she]'ll come home." In "From Your Knees," an abandoned husband has only his own "cheatin' and drinkin'" to blame. Having lost everything, he says an "old sinner's prayer," repents, and even though "he'd waited too long to say he was wrong, / his house was still standing, he'd fight for his home."
If Around the Bend is non-gospel, by all means let there be more.