"Where Could I Go but to the Lord" is the title of an old country-gospel standard, and though it's not on country singer Randy Travis' new album, "Inspirational Journey," it sums up the path that led to his first gospel recording.
Travis had spent most of the second half of the 1980s at the pinnacle of country stardom, his "Storms of Life" album being the first by a country singer to be certified quadruple platinum, for shipments of more than 4 million copies.
But like many other staunchly traditional artists, the North Carolina native with the distinctively woodsy baritone saw his music fall out of favor in the '90s as the public's attention swung to such pop-country crossover acts as Shania Twain, Brooks & Dunn and Faith Hill.
While those artists' albums have soared, Travis' two latest country collections, 1998's "You and You Alone" and last year's "A Man Ain't Made of Stone," have sold just 448,000 copies combined, according to SoundScan.
So Travis turned to the Lord--at least to songs about him.
But rather than simply offer his renditions of what he calls "spirituals that have been recorded 100 times," Travis set his sights on original material more focused on telling a story.
"It is different," says Travis, who headlines at the Sun Theatre in Anaheim tonight. "I truly believe, though, that country music fans will want to listen just out of curiosity, if nothing else. It's a gospel album, but it's not heavily orchestrated or syrupy, and you can't completely take away the country in my voice.
"By the same token," he adds, "I think religious folks will be curious too. Some of those who aren't normally that interested in country music--or in me--might be inclined to hear what I have to say about such things as getting baptized or calling on the Lord during hard times. At least, that's what I'm hoping for."
The album, which includes three songs Travis co-wrote, reflects much of his own physical and spiritual turnaround. Having abused alcohol and drugs for years and having run-ins with the law in his youth--including for auto theft--Travis gradually came to the inner realization that turned his life around.
"I went way down the wrong road as a teenager, no doubt about it," says Travis, who will also appear at a couple of church services while he's in the Southland.
"In my mid-20s, I began to look at myself and didn't like what I was seein'," he continues. "I didn't feel good, either. My gosh, I was out of shape. So I just started reading the Bible and watching some of the preachers on TV. My wife, Libby, who was my manager at the time, started attending church in Nashville, and one Sunday I decided to join her. Turns out, that's where I got baptized."
Travis expects that "Baptism," the first single from "Inspirational Journey," probably will be ignored by the same radio programmers who refuse to play his traditional country music because they say it's "too country-sounding for country radio."
"That is the dumbest remark I have ever heard. . . . It irritates me to no end," says Travis, 41. "Most everyone is trying to cross over with pop and glossy production values. What happened to the true stylists? I grew up with [Merle] Haggard and [George] Jones and Lefty [Frizzell] and Hank [Williams] and Loretta [Lynn]. There's no way you couldn't know whose voices those were after hearing two words."
On a happier note, Travis has embarked on a second career as an actor, with appearances in the movie "The Rainmaker" and the television series "Touched by an Angel," among other projects.
He recently finished filming "Texas Rangers," a forthcoming action-film co-starring Dylan McDermott and James Van Der Beek.
"I have been very fortunate," he says. "I'm sitting here with two movie scripts in my hands. . . . I've been offered roles and I don't even have to read for these parts.
"I don't really have any unfulfilled goals in the entertainment business," he says. "What I need to work on is being a better Christian. . . . I still need to get my temper under control--I think I inherited that from my daddy. I'm doing the best I can. I know I'm gonna mess up, but I do repent and seek forgiveness. The Almighty understands that we are all works in progress."
* Randy Travis, tonight at the Sun Theatre, 2200 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim. 7:30 p.m. $30. (714) 712-2700. Also Saturday at 4:45 and 6:30 p.m. services at the Saddleback Church, 1 Saddleback Parkway, Lake Forest. (949) 609-8000. Also Sunday at 9:30 and 11 a.m. services at the Crystal Cathedral, 13280 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove. (714) 971-4000.