My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Lessons Learned’

lessons learnedTracy Lawrence’s career suffered a setback in late 1997 when his wife of nine months filed domestic abuse charges against him. Around the same time his singles “The Coast Is Clear” and “While You Sleep” tanked at country radio. Tracy took some time off to sort out his personal problems and did not release another album until 2000. It was not an ideal time to be off the charts; the late 90s saw a dramatic shift away from traditional country music and the careers of many artists who had enjoyed their breakthroughs in the late 80s and early 90s began to cool. Like many others, Tracy had begun to embrace a more pop-oriented sound, beginning with 1997’s The Coast Is Clear, a trend that would continue with 2000’s Lessons Learned. It’s possible that Tracy’s personal problems and absence from the radio airwaves made him and his co-producers Flip Anderson and Butch Carr reluctant to take too many creative risks. The play-it-safe strategy temporarily reversed his chart decline, but unfortunately Lessons Learned is one of his less interesting efforts. The steel guitar, though still present, often takes a back seat to rock-and-roll guitar riffs, and on several tracks Tracy seems to be deliberately toning down the twang in his voice.

The title track, which Tracy co-wrote with Larry Boone and Paul Nelson peaked at #3, returning him to the Top 10 for the the first time in nearly three years and taking him to the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 for the first and only time. The record is a solid effort and one of the better tracks on the album, but not as memorable as some of Tracy’s earlier hits. “Lessons Learned” was followed by the pedestrian “Lonely”, on which Tracy’s voice sounds rather rough, as if he’d spent too many hours in the studio when the track was cut. I’m not sure I’d even recognize his voice if I hadn’t already known who the singer was. It failed to achieve the same level of success as “Lessons Learned”, topping out at #18. The third and final single “Unforgiven”, which finds Tracy engaging in some navel-gazing in the aftermath of a failed relationship, acknowledging his shortcomings but unable to comprehend why his ex can’t forgive him. It’s a good song, marred by some slightly heavy handed production near the end. Its success on the charts was likely undermined by behind-the-scenes drama at the label; Atlantic was in the process of shutting down its Nashville division at the time. “Unforgiven”, which stalled at #35,and Tracy’s contract was transferred to Atlantic’s sister label Warner Bros.

The rest of the album is rather hit-or-miss. “Steps” and the two Lawrence co-writes “The Holes That He Dug” and “Long Wet Kiss” are throwaways, and “Just You And Me” is an over the top synthesizer-laden ballad that sounds out of place with the rest of the album. On the other hand, the more traditional “From The Inside Out” and “The Man I Was” are both excellent. The remaining tracks fall somewhere in between — not terrible but not particularly memorable either. Although Lessons Learned is not his best work, it is worth the small expenditure to obtain a used copy.

Grade: B-

One response to “Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Lessons Learned’

  1. Luckyoldsun September 18, 2013 at 1:29 pm

    The title cut, “Lessons Learned,” and especially “Unforgiven” were clever in their duel meanings. For listeners who were aware of Lawrence’s personal situation, he seemed to be singing directly about it. For listeners who were unfamiliar with the controversies and transgressions, they were just songs.

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