By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

September 2, 2004

Travis Tritt
"My Honky Tonk History"
Columbia Records

Somewhere along the way, Travis Tritt changed from a "new traditionalist" to "contemporary country" to Hank Williams Jr.

He still has one of the best voices in pop music. He's still playing the outlaw. And he's still mixing great-sounding Southern blues-rock with hard-core country ballads.

But like Hank Jr. doing the umpteenth "Rowdy Friends" variation, Tritt seems to be trying too hard. So when he sings "Honky Tonk History" -- another "this is who I am" rocker -- the needle on the sincerity meter barely moves.

"I love the smell of cigarettes/Whiskey on a woman's breath/The sound of outlaw music sets me free/Blame it on my honky tonk history," he sings. Well, maybe we can blame it on writers Patrick Jason Matthews' and Luke Bryan's honky-tonk history.

Tritt is more convincing on ballads such as "Too Far to Turn Around," co-written by red-hot Gretchen Wilson of Pocahontas, Ill., who chips in with backing vocals.

And so the CD goes. Rockers such as "The Girl's Gone Wild," inspired by those smarmy "Girls Gone Wild" videos pitched on late-night TV, alternate with effective and affecting ballads, including "Circus Leaving Town" and "We've Had it All," written by Tritt and pal Marty Stuart.

"What Say You" inexplicably appears in the middle of all this. It's a duet with John Mellencamp, which neither man wrote, that espouses peace, love and understanding. But with so much strident, heartfelt music being made lately about peace and war, from Toby Keith on one end of the political spectrum to Steve Earle on the other, the song's blandness is almost shocking.

The easy tag for this review would be to just use one of Tritt's song titles: "When Good Ol' Boys Go Bad," or maybe "It's All About the Money." Truth is, the CD isn't bad, just ill-conceived. Tritt can, and has, done better.