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Randy Travis, ‘Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum’ – ToC Critic’s Pick [Listen]

Tonight I'm Playing Possum
Warner Brothers Records

It’s possible the context in which Randy Travis releases his new single ‘Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum’ could cause fans and critics to overstate its impact. Then again, maybe not. There are, after all, only so many words available to heap effusive praise on this brilliantly composed and performed traditional ballad.

You’re not alive if Travis’ deep bellow doesn’t touch every raw nerve on your body. In a world of musical snack food, his song (written by Keith Gattis) is a 16-ounce T-bone. He’s talking about George Jones, of course — a man Travis called a friend and idol. “So find a drink or find a road, I’m ’bout to drop a needle on some ol’ No Show,” he sings to begin each chorus of ‘Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum.’ A better lyric likely won’t come in 2013.

You’re gonna want an ashtray and a bottle / I’m going deep, I’m going long ’til I run that needle through every last song, he ever sung / So pour ‘em strong and smoke ‘em if you got ‘em / Boys, tonight I’m playin’ Possum.”

Jones died on April 26, about 10 weeks before Travis entered the hospital with heart troubles. Joe Nichols recorded the song as a duet with Travis, but his voice is left off this new version, as often happens when artists from different labels collaborate. While the Nichols version is special, it’s a new experience listening to Travis pour his heart out across the full three minutes and forty seconds. And he truly does pour everything he has into the track.

I’ll bet he’d step right up singing, right now he’s bringing / Every angel in that house up there to tears / So close the doors and lock ‘em up, and if you see me choking up / Just dim the light cause, boys, tonight what happens here stays here,” Travis sings during the second verse.

With so many questions about Travis’ health, it’s fair to wonder if ‘Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum’ will be his final recording. The song will either prove to be a fitting end for one of country’s all-time vocalists, or the start of a very exciting chapter.

5 Stars

Listen to Randy Travis, ‘Tonight I’m Playin’ Possum’

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Next: See the Top Songs of 2013 (So Far)

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