Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

After three successful gospel collections, Randy Travis returns to his first love -- country music -- on "Passing Through." Due Nov. 9, the album marks the first time Word Records, a 53-year-old Christian label, has worked a straight-ahead country record.

Travis began his association with Word in 2000 with "Inspirational Journey," which has sold 267,000 units in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Then came 2002's "Rise and Shine," which spawned the huge crossover hit, "Three Wooden Crosses," which became the first single released by a Christian record company to top Billboard's Hot Country Singles & Tracks chart.

"Crosses" went on to win song of the year honors from the Country Music Association, Christian Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music, as well as country recorded song of the year from the Gospel Music Association. The album has sold 516,000 units since its release.

Last year, Word issued Travis' "Worship and Faith," which won the GMA's country album of the year award and has sold 286,000 units.

Since Travis' association with Word has been so successful, it's little surprise he has opted to re-sign a multi- album deal with the label. "The whole group at Word, everybody involved, is wonderful to work with," Travis says. "We enjoyed working with each other so much, we just wanted to continue."

Ever since his multi-platinum 1986 debut, "Storms of Life," rejuvenated the format, ushering in a new era of traditional country music, Travis has been known for finding great songs and bringing them to life with his heartfelt baritone. "Passing Through," produced by Travis' longtime collaborator, Kyle Lehning, continues that legacy.

Travis says many of the songs on the album are autobiographical.

"'That Was Us,' really hits home," Travis says of the song that chronicles the lively exploits of some mischievous young men, closely mirroring his own wild youth in North Carolina, where drinking, high-speed car chases and brushes with the law were regular occurrences.

"'Daddy Never Was' is a song that has things I can relate to," Travis continues. "And 'Right on Time' is another one, considering where I came from. It took me awhile to get straightened out."

The latter song also touches on his rebellious youth, with a lyric that states, "You go through what you go through to get where you are/Lucky for me I didn't go too far/I turned around before I got to the end of the line/Took awhile to get here, but I'm right on time."

The album includes a couple of Travis-penned tunes. He wrote "I Can See It in Your Eyes" with his friend, pastor Matthew Hagee. "I'm Your Man" is a love song he penned for his wife, Elizabeth, when he was on the road last year.

"While it is a country record, it is strongly influenced by his faith and beliefs," Word Label Group senior VP of marketing and artist development Mark Lusk says. "There are a lot of really positive messages and Christian messages that come out in the songs. As a result, we'll be able to market it in the contemporary Christian world as well as the country world."

In addition to the usual media outlets, Travis' new project will get a boost from his appearance on ABC-TV's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," a network reality show that provides help to families in need.

In the episode, which airs Nov. 21, a California woman whose husband recently died in an auto accident has her home rebuilt and work done on the family farm. Travis not only performed a benefit concert for the woman and her two daughters, he put in some light fixtures and did work around their new house.

"The single, 'Four Walls,' lyrically matches the theme of what this program is really all about," Lusk says, "which is doing for others, relationships and family."

In addition to promoting the new album, Travis, who is also an actor, just began shooting a new film. He has landed a substantial role in "Visitation," based on a book by Frank Peretti.





Excerpted from the Nov. 6, 2004, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.

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