A sought-after collaborator, Travis Linville’s instrumental session and touring work includes credits with artists ranging from fellow Oklahomans Samantha Crain and John Moreland to longtime collaborator Hayes Carll and indie rock stalwart Berwanger (feat. members of the Anniversary). In recent years, he’s performed his own music as hand-selected support for Carll and Moreland, as well as Parker Millsap, Todd Snider’s Hard Working Americans, and even country legend Marty Stuart.
These collaborations and his recorded catalog, including 2017’s Up Ahead LP, have built for Linville a dedicated group of fans in the music world who’ve spent decades enamored of his nonchalant technical skill, artistry, and taste. As Carll puts it, “Travis is one of those rare artists that seem to be gifted at everything. His playing and singing appear to be just as natural as breathing to him. That ease has always stood out to me.”
Among those fans is Broken Arrow, Oklahoma native JD McPherson, who signed on to produce Linville’s forthcoming new album: presciently titled I’m Still Here. The 10-track set is full of, in McPherson’s words, the “fantastic songs and consummate musicianship” Linville is known for, but the contributions from his collaborators shine throughout.
The title track, a lament on the chasm between perception and reality, was penned in a single writing session with power songwriter, and one-fourth of supergroup The Highwomen, Natalie Hemby (Miranda Lambert, Kacey Musgraves, Lady Gaga). Crediting Hemby’s gift for writing exactly what someone else means to say, Travis recalls, “After working on it with her for a few hours I felt like I left with the best song I had ever put together.”
It’s followed by “Feeling We Used to Know,” originally written 20-plus years ago by Linville’s former bandmate Jamie Kelley. Recorded live, it leans hard in the direction of Elvis Costello and the Attractions, both tightly orchestrated and blasé thanks to McPherson’s assembled studio band. Led by Linville with Jason Smay on drums, Dominic Davis on bass, and Raynier Jacildo on keys, it’s a collective whose combined resume includes work with Jack White, The Black Keys, CeeLo Green, and Dwight Yoakam.
The bottle-clanking country waltz “Yesterday’s Wine” finds Linville paying homage to Willie Nelson while trading verses with Carll, joined by friends and Tulsans John Fullbright and Jacob Tovar on the chorus. Elsewhere, there are moments when outside hands are even more evident, like the refreshingly incongruous “I Saw You,” hearkening the bouncy piano of Leon Russell paired with the goofy, shouted lyricism of a “Sgt. Pepper.”
At its core, I’m Still Here is a collection of contributions woven together with endearingly visible seams, but it remains a record only Linville could’ve made...or at least could’ve made happen. McPherson explains, “I’ve never worked with someone so open to new ideas yet knows fundamentally who they are as an artist. Everyone had such a great time working with Travis and his fantastic songs. Let me drive that final point home: Travis is a really, really great songwriter. That makes work a pleasure.”