When the pandemic hit Travis Denning had to down tools and put on hold a tour with Sam Hunt. Deflated, he decided to take some time out to re-connect with small-town life and write music. One hundred songs later and his new six-track EP – ‘Dirt Road Down’ – is released, packing a punch with the very best of those 100 songs and an alternate version of ‘ABBY’ thrown in for good measure.
“This was about going ‘What’s the next step?'” Denning says of the EP. “It’s kind of cheesy, but to me Dirt Road Down makes me feel like we’ve gone a little further down the path of who I am – which I like to think is a dirt road, for sure.”
And the EP is everything you’d expect of Denning, but sharper. The rough, husky vocals are there, as is the traditional country lyric with a healthy smattering of trucks, fishing and whiskey, all wrapped into some mind-grabbingly memorable melodies.
The opening track on the album – ‘Call It Country’ – is precisely the “damn teeth-kicker” that Denning describes it as. From the punchy bass drum, to the blazing guitars, this song blends country and rock, co-written with the fabulous Jessi Alexander and Chris Stevens.
‘Dirt Road Down’ – the title track – starts off sultry by comparison, but picks up with a rockier chorus. The blend of musical influences on this song and across the rest of the EP reflect Denning’s broad musical taste, growing up on everything from AC/DC and Metallica to Brooks & Dunn.
The only dip in the momentum of this EP for me, is the third track. ‘Jack and Coke’ is a play on words. Jack and Jill split up and all that is left is Jack and Coke. It’s a nice idea but maybe a little try-hard. But we’re back in groove by the time ‘Grew Up With A Truck’ kicks in and there is nothing quite as country as singing about buying your first truck and kicking up some back road dust, and Denning’s raw vocals are at their grittiest here.
Perhaps the strongest track on the EP is ‘I Went Fishing’. The simpler acoustic sound of this song mirrors the simple pastime of spending a day catching fish. He stops short of using the analogy ‘plenty more fish in the sea’, but it’s implied. Going fishing is how he gets over heartbreak and disappointment and how he, “really learned how to let a good one go”.
Denning says this song is his favourite: “I wrote it right after the Sam Hunt tour got cancelled, and I was so bummed – I mean devastated. That’s when I thought about the title again, and it was like ‘I don’t think I fish to catch fish, really. It’s more about trying to find a little piece of mind, and get away from it all.'”
The EP completes with ‘ABBY’, first released in February 2020. This is, quite simply, a really really good country pop song. It has all the humour, cheek, love and angst that we could want, is utterly memorable and really sticks it to whoever the ex-girlfriend is that he is singing about. Denning is pretty proud of this one: “That song feels like it could be the cornerstone of my career – forever. It’s a great story, it’s funny, it doesn’t take itself too seriously, and people just relate to it.”
So here is the next step in Denning’s country music journey. Hopefully, it’s a dirt road he’ll be driving down for some time to come.
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1. ‘Call It Country’ (Travis Denning, Jessi Alexander, Chris Stevens)
2. ‘Dirt Road Down’ (Travis Denning, Taylor Phillips, Cole Taylor, Will Weatherly)
3. ‘Jack And Coke’ (Travis Denning, CJ Solar, Chris Stevens)
4. ‘Grew Up With A Truck’ (Travis Denning)
5. ‘I Went Fishing’ (Travis Denning, Thomas Archer, James McNair)
6. ‘ABBY’ (Alternate Version) (Ashley Gorley, Matt Jenkins, Chase McGill)