' first album, 1986's Storms of Life
was one of those rare debuts that was nearly perfect: a confident, assured statement of purpose that set expectations for a follow-up almost too high. Remarkably, his second album Always & Forever
-- delivered just a year later -- met those expectations and rivaled its predecessor in its quality. If there's just a slightly increased inclination to slick, radio-ready productions and an emphasis on ballads, the songs themselves are sturdy, classically styled country tunes, whether they're tales of heartache or devotion and they're grounded by Travis
, whose nuanced baritone -- bearing a definite Lefty Frizzell
influence but possessing his own distinctive idiosyncrasies -- cuts through whatever production glaze there is here. But that glaze is slight -- it's just a hallmark of the era and when compared to other records in the charts in 1987, Always & Forever
sounds positively lean -- and the songs (including the chart-toppers "Forever and Ever, Amen," "I Won't Need You Anymore (Always and Forever") and "Too Gone Too Long") are great, and through it all Travis
proves that he's one of the great country singers of the '80s, if not the greatest.