"Dude, I knew you could sing, but I had no idea you could do that blue-eyed soul thing!"
Producer Randy Jackson paid that compliment to Travis Tritt, after recording a duet between Tritt and soul man Sam Moore for Moore's 2006 album, Overnight Sensational. Then he made a suggestion. "If you ever want to do an album that puts a bigger spotlight on that," Jackson said, "I'd love to work on it with you."
The end result of that conversation is The Storm, Tritt's widely-praised 2007 release. Tritt and Jackson teamed up to create a powerhouse collection of songs that emphasize the irresistible soul side of Tritt's singing. It's a card that has always been in Tritt's stylistic deck, but one that has often been overlooked by listeners unfamiliar with the deep musical links between country and R&B, particularly in the South.
And in Jackson, Tritt found the ideal collaborator. Before he gained acclaim for his role as a judge on "American Idol," Jackson had played bass with artists ranging from Aretha Franklin to Journey. Demonstrating that type of range is precisely the aim of The Storm.
"Growing up just outside Atlanta, to the north of us you've got the Grand Ol' Opry in Nashville," Tritt explains. "A little bit South you've got Macon, Georgia â€" home of the Allman Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band and Capricorn Records. And off to west you've got Delta blues. Sprinkle Southern gospel over the top of that, and you're talking about where I came from. I loved all of that music."
To make that point, "You Never Take Me Dancing," the first single from The Storm, opens with Tritt's bluesy moans and a seductive acoustic slide guitar, before settling into the funkiest groove this side of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." The song was written by Richard Marx, who also collaborated with Tritt on "Doesn't the Good Outweigh the Bad," a rollicking relationship song that grew out of Tritt and his wife's experience building a new house. "You know how they say that if your marriage can survive building a house it can survive anything?" Tritts asks, laughing. "That is absolutely a fact."