Album Review: Travis Collins – Hard Light (2016 LP)

Travis Collins has come a long way since taking the prize of Toyota Star Maker Quest (a competition that has kick started the careers of Keith Urban, Lee Kernaghan, and James Blundell to name a few). Now, twelve years later, Travis has released his fifth album, Hard Light. Delving into loss, love, courage – it is definitely his best yet.

It’s more than just an album – it’s an insight, more like an open diary sung to music. Yes, it’s country, but you get a real sense of Collins’ vast music influences. While it doesn’t exactly cross over into other genres, it’s a good entry-level album to get you accustomed to the country sound as many pop, rock and bluesy tones come through.

The clear differences between this album and the previous [one], is Collins’s heavy involvement in the writing. As a listener, you get a true sense of raw openness which, although was hinted at on previous albums, is prominent on Hard Light. Collins’ had a hand in co-writing 12 of the 14 tracks on the albumworking with talented co-writers Morgan Evans, Australian Idol winner Damien Leith, Drew McAlister, Troy Kemp, and Travis Meadows.

It’s deeply personal. “The Bottom of It”, for example, accounts his relationship (or lack of) with his father. I can’t help but think this song (and that yearning to heal the strained relationship) stems from the loss of Collins’ father-in-law (as evident on “Lost and Uninspired” from Wired, 2015).  As an ambassador for R U OK? day, it is a cause close to Collins’ heart.

I can’t help but guess that the suicide also inspired the second single, currently sitting at number one on the Country Music charts, “Call Me Crazy”. The appeal of this ballad is momentous, as the lyrics resonates with us all – we’ve all lost people suddenly in our life. It deals with that grief, disbelief and trying to accept that they are gone. It evokes those feelings of still being able to feel their presence around you, but you’re unsure if you’re holding on to them or they’re holding on to you. It’s powerful, and the clear tear jerker of the album.

The relief is in the comedic “What Happens On The Road”. While not based on personal experience itself, (Collins’ describes it as a cautionary tale for other musicians), it’s the insight into a married man who comes home to find his wife has seen his recent exploits on the internet during his latest tour. It plays on that old saying: ‘What happens on the road, stays on the road’, although that doesn’t really apply anymore when the internet is involved. Is anything really private these days? As the lyrics say, ‘What happens on the road goes on the internet and before you know, everyone can see what you’ve been doing who you’ve been screwing’. It’s not hard to guess why it’s been such a hit with the fans.

Perhaps, the most surprising track is a cover of Katy Perry‘s “Firework. Have you ever not paid attention to lyrics of a song because you’re so distracted by that poppy melody? Collins’ version is slowed down, more melancholic but full of hope. “Firework” is essentially a song about the loss of belief in yourself. We all struggle with our demons but then having to stand up and shine, that takes courage. It’s a surprising, unexpected and vastly different cover, but compares equally, if not better, than the original.

There’s songs about your traditional country themes also – cars in the rocky “It Was Wheels”; rural towns in the catchy “Hometown Calling”; settling down in ballad “The First Time”; addiction in the melancholic “Minefield”; the clash of cultures (a girl of all class who becomes a bit of a country scandal when she gets some drink in her) in “High Wasted Genes”; and of course, drinking (or even drunk courage) in “Beer Can”. The likeable first single, “Just Another Girl”, is about lost love, and is a strong album opener.

I personally cannot wait to see what he brings to album number six. As a paid performer since age 10, it feels like Collins’ is finally taking stride. The future looks bright for this talented country music singer/songwriter/guitar player.

Review Score: 9 out of 10. AU-APPROVED

Hard Light is out now.