It's gospel, so to speak, that a true country music tune must include one or more of the following: a lonesome train whistle, a pickup truck, drinkin', cheatin', cryin', prison (metaphorical or not), or a sweet, long-suffering momma.What's often left out of this list is faith in the good Lord. But inspirational albums have a long history in country music, and the continuing power of the genre is shown by the success of more recent albums like Andy Griffith's double-platinum disk of hymns, "I Love to Tell the Story," from the mid-'90s and last year's platinum hit from Anne Murray, "What a Wonderful World."

But for Randy Travis, a multi-platinum fixture on the country scene himself, the decision to record his first gospel album, "Inspirational Journey," wasn't a matter of boosting his sales figures. It is a musical expression of the reality of his life today. "These songs reflect where I am now," says Travis, "but they also reflect some parts of the road that got me here."Before winning 10 American Music Awards, 5 Country Music Association Awards, 8 Academy of Country Music Awards, and 3 Grammies, all on the strength of 21 million albums sold, Travis spent much of his young adult life consumed by drugs and alcohol, and in and out of trouble with the law. Those years have undoubtedly influenced the music he's made since 1986. "Back in my younger, wilder days, I thought I was having fun," he says, "but most of the time I was actually miserable. I looked at religion as a prison. When I finally turned toward God," he continues, "I started finding a freedom to enjoy my life without all the guilt and misery I used to carry."

Travis was baptized four years ago, after feeling the "continual need to be a better human being." Renewing his faith in God, he says, has been life-transforming. "I recognize my weaknesses now," he says, "and I struggle against them. I pray every day now. I finish every day by reading my Bible. My own recognition of my need for God is pretty central to a lot of these songs on 'Inspirational Journey.'"

The star took his time--four years--making sure the album's songs were worthy of the subject matter. The disk's simple melodies and moving lyrics are pure Travis, with a traditional country feel to songs like "Doctor Jesus" and "Don't Ever Sell Your Saddle," though a broader gospel sound does come through on standards like "Amazing Grace." Travis is joined on a couple of tunes by Waylon Jennings, Jessi Colter ("The Carpenter"), and Marty Stuart on mandolin ("Don't Ever Sell Your Saddle" and "Drive Another Nail"), as well as the talents of some of country music's most notable musicians. The result? Travis's latest album both expresses his renewed interest in faith and the contentment he's found there and yet is true to the kind of music he's known for.

"I approached this album just like any other country album," he says, "I'm an entertainer, and obviously I want people to enjoy the music. That's why I do what I do. At the same time, if this album touches someone in a way that makes them consider changing their lifestyle, then that's a huge plus."

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus