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I’ve long enjoyed Travis’s music and was delighted to see this expanded 20th anniversary reissue of The Man Who plus the first ever release of the band’s performance at Glastonbury (Live at Glastonbury ‘99). For the expanded reissue of The Man Who, the band hand-selected 19 B-sides, which are available on digital and CD reissues of the album. Additionally, a deluxe box set (previously offered in a limited quantity via Travis’ online store, available again now due to popular demand) offers the expanded album on two CDs and two LPs, while the 12” x 12” lift-top box will also include a 58-page commemorative photo book.
If I am remembering correctly, I first heard Travis on a long forgotten TV show. Their music was striking, due in no small part to Fran Healey’s angelic voice perfectly meshing with his terrific band. Healey is a Scotsman born in England and he wrote everything on the original album. I had no idea about any of this until recently. On the B-sides, we get covers from Joni Mitchell, The Band, and a few others. But let’s start with the original album, which is winsome but melancholy. Some thought it was too much of a downer, but I like its moody textures. The terrific single “Writing to Reach You” opens the album, and it’s aged well, with a timeless and gentle melody accompanied by the soft burr of Healey’s voice. “The Fear” combines longing with sad sentiments, and the crystalline production is spare but stellar. “As You Are” has a vocal line similar to Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and is a minor masterpiece. The guitar work is also a standout. To this day, “Driftwood” is a winsome gem and is one of the group’s best songs. On the surface, it seems to address the wandering that can happen in relationships. It also reminds me of a relationship where one person is ready for something permanent but the other person can’t be pinned down. “Turn” and “Why Does It Always Rain On Me” were both hits for the band. The latter song is probably better known here in the US, but I think it’s “Turn” that takes the crown for best song of this pair. “Turn” is simply beautiful. Fairly simple lyrics married to a gorgeous melody and a wonderful vocal turn from Fran. “Rain” delves into a slice of life where the protagonist is always down on his luck. There is a vein of humor that elevates this from maudlin to whimsical. Moving on to the B-sides, the second disk kicks off with the lively earworm, “Green Behind the Ears”. Other highlights include the energetic “High As a Kite”, the pretty “Where is the Love?”, an almost perfect rendition of “River” by Joni Mitchell, and another Mitchell cover is simply great (the lovely “The Urge for Going”). “We Are Monkeys” is simply bananas and will put an instant smile on your face. Fun! “Coming Around” is summery jangle pop, a genre that Travis excels at. Wonderful! The final cover of The Band’s “The Weight” is solid and a fine way to close out the second disk.
Live at Glastonbury ‘99 was previously unreleased until now. The performance followed the release of “The Man Who”, and thus, contains a fair number of songs from that album. It is clear that the band was approaching the height of their career, as they were on fire here. To be honest, I am no fan of live albums, with a few exceptions. This one is a good one, however, and worth picking up if you follow the band in any manner. The sound quality is outstanding, clear and punchy. Healey sounds as marvelous as always, and the band members are at the top of their game performance wise. The hits are all here, and a story I read said that it started pouring while they performed, “Why Does It Always Rain On Me?” That is fitting for a somewhat dour band, but each song always contains an uplifting element that pierces through the gloom like a ray of sunshine. Most of the crowd noise has been minimized, with the focus being on the band’s performance. The final song “Happy” is a bit ironic, as the band sounds anything but. In summary, this pair of releases will please fans and should draw in new listeners who’ve only heard a song or two. Well worth it!
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