Yes, Randy Travis’s second “gospel” album goes down easier than Elvis Presley’s oversung Ultimate Gospel. But when songs entitled “That’s Jesus” and “When Mama Prayed” are no sharper than you fear, Nashville is wasting the greatest vocal gift in country music. Compensating are “Save the Fish,” a jocular argument against total immersion, and “Three Wooden Crosses,” an award-winning parable or parody about a farmer, a teacher, a preacher, and a hooker (guess which one lives, and raises a preacher of her own). There’s also a tour de force fervently recommended to every adoptive parent: “Raise Him Up,” in which the guy who marries the unwed mother turns into Joseph, who in turn gives way to Jesus’s “real dad,” that specialist in raising sons up. Unfortunately, there’s a touch of evil too, and I don’t even mean “Everywhere We Go,” an anti-“they” defense of the Ten Commandments in public education and the right of workers to witness for the Lord on the job (who’s stopping them?). I mean “Jerusalem’s Cry,” in which an embattled Israel and general conflagration in the Middle East are welcomed as signs that we’ve reached “the end times.” He uses the very term, and make no mistake—of all Christianity’s bad ideas, the notion that the world is coming to an end best serves Osama bin Laden and Karl Rove.
Great talent, Randy Travis. But also a dupe—or an enemy.