Alcoholism ain’t pretty. This is not a common theme in mainstream music, where life is a party 24/7.
Travis Meadows is a songwriter who knows the meaning of despair, and its seductive stranglehold on a broken life. His own narrative is surrounded by death, cancer, alcoholism, and Jesus. You can read his profile at Rolling Stone, which describes him as “Nashville’s most brutally honest songwriter.” He lost a leg from cancer as a teenager. He found Jesus, the beginning of a complicated relationship.
In the album, Killin’ Uncle Buzzy, you can hear his pain, but hope dominates. “God Speaks” is a poignant example of finding God in the love of another person. “Grown Up Clothes” is an intimate display of vulnerability, from the perspective of a child of an alcoholic father. I encourage you to click on the links and enjoy the songs.
And then there is “What We Ain’t Got,” which became a chart success by Jake Owen earlier this year. Here is a performance of the song in Nashville, featuring Travis:
We all wish that it didn’t hurt / When you try your best and it doesn’t work / Goodbye is such a painful word / We all wish it didn’t hurt
But, “Riser” is the song that speaks most powerfully into his own life and into ours. He did not record it. Rather, the song was purchased and recorded by Dierks Bentley, one of the biggest names in Nashville. “Riser” became the title track of his 2014 album, Riser, both critically acclaimed and commercially successful — a rare combination nowadays. Dierks performed “Riser” at the ACM Awards this year, and it was nearly the only reason worth watching the ACM’s.
“Riser” is not a complicated song. There’s no irony. It relies upon simple and sentimental expressions, and it grabs you from the first two lines. It’s a song of defiance and redemption. Travis performed the song for Nashville Unleashed, which I highly recommend:
If we ain’t got no money I can make it / And I ain’t afraid of working to the bone / When I don’t know what I’m doin’ I can fake it / I’ll pray ’til Jesus rolls away the stone
As the steel guitarist says at the end of the video, “Thank you, Lord, for Travis Meadows.”