My Kind of Country

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

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Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Good Old Days’

If popular culture is to be believed, it seems the 1990s is the hottest decade right now. Most of the ‘new’ television shows are reboots of classics from the era, including Full House and Will & Grace, with the originals casts reprising their roles. In popular music, if you were a major player 20-25 years ago, then its suddenly fashionable to return with new music and slews of concert dates.

In country music, this trend extends to the return of Faith Hill and Shania Twain with their first new music in more than a decade while Garth Brooks is wrapping up his massive three-year tour this month in Nashville. Even Dixie Chicks came home to the United States with their first tour in ten years. What’s old is new again or rather the music that defined my childhood is suddenly hip again.

It would be a stretch to place Tracy Lawrence at the same level since he was never a global superstar or wheeled much influence on an international stage. But he was one of the most consistent and traditional artists in his day, with a catalog that more than stands up to anything released by the artists who may have eclipsed him in status.

To celebrate this resurgence, Lawrence has released Good Ole Days, which recognizes what he refers to as a ‘hunger for the music from my era.’ The album pairs him with modern day country artists singing his hits. The whole concept does seem like a gimmick, a cash grab for the gullible fan unaware they are likely only lining the pockets of the executive who dreamt up this project. But really it’s a chance to finally hear country’s current class sing real well-written songs for the first time in their careers. I jumped at the chance to review this album simply so I could hear how these artists sound when forced to interrupt the actual country music. I’ve always had a theory that there is talent there if these artists had the proper vehicle to show it off.

This is the proper vehicle because instead of the artists making these songs their own, with their typical non-country producers and such, they have to stick within the confines of the original arrangements, including the steel, fiddle, and twang. Without the ability to hide, every weakness would be on the table.

Luke Bryan tackles Lawrence’s 1991 debut “Sticks and Stones” and handles it well. I wasn’t impressed with Jason Aldean’s take on “Just Can’t Break It to My Heart,” his voice was a bit too dirty, but the energy was good.

I remember reading in Quotable Country, on the dearly-departed Country California, Justin Moore says if he had a say he would make an album in the vein of I See It Now. He goes back a bit further here with “Alibis” and knocks it out of the park. Moore is a great country singer and it’s a shame he has to reside in this current climate.

Dustin Lynch sounds exactly like a young Lawrence on “Texas Tornado,” which is kind of scary. His performance isn’t excellent, but it’s damn close. I was surprised Miranda Lambert, who has been known to belt this out in concert, wasn’t singing it but that could’ve been label politics.

Probably the newest artist featured here is Luke Combs, who just hit number one with “When It Rains It Pours.” There’s no mistaking he’s a country singer and he easily pulls this off. The same is true for Chris Young, but he sounds like he’s just going through the paces on “If The Good Die Young.” If he had just let go the results could’ve been incredible.

The legend of Tim McGraw is he moved to Nashville on May 9, 1989, and has always said he’s more of a storyteller while Keith Whitley is a singer. I agree wholeheartedly, but his performance of “Time Marches On” is bland. In contrast, Easton Corbin shines on “Paint Me A Birmingham.”

Kellie Pickler’s talent is wasted on “Stars Over Texas,” which finds her regulated to singing the chorus. As the sole female voice on the whole album, you would’ve thought she’d be allowed more of a presence. I didn’t care for her vocal either, which makes her sound like a little girl.

There are two new songs in the mix. Brad Arnold, the lead singer of Alternative Rock band Three Doors Down (think ‘Here Without You’) joins Lawrence on the title track, which is being billed as his “country music debut.” The song, which also features Big & Rich, is a faux-rock disaster. The military-themed fiddle drenched ballad “Finally Home,” which features Craig Morgan, is better but not really for my tastes.

Good Ole Days is a great concept with lousy execution. These tracks are collaborations between the singer and Tracy Lawrence which doesn’t work on any level. Get rid of Lawrence entirely and turn this into the proper tribute album it’s screaming to be. His nasally twang is insufferable and pointlessly distracting. The lack of female artists in the mix is also troubling, as you don’t need just men to sing these songs.

Grade: B-

Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘For The Love’

forthelove2004’s Strong was Tracy Lawrence’s one and only album for DreamWorks Nashville, which shut down operations in 2005, leaving Tracy and several other artists without a record deal. Two years later Tracy returned with For The Love, released on his own Rocky Comfort Records imprint. Though it was not quite up to the standard of his early work for Atlantic, For The Love was a marked improvement over his more recent releases. He teamed up with a new co-producer, Julian King, although his old friend Flip Anderson shared production credits on a couple of tracks.

The first single “Find Out Who Your Friends Are” was originally released in late 2006, where it struggled to crack the Top 40. An alternate version featuring guest vocals from Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney was released the following January, and their star power helped to propel the record to #1. It was Lawrence’s first chart-topper since “Time Marches On” reached #1 more than a decade earlier. The record is noteworthy as the slowest-climbing #1 in the history of the Billboard country singles chart. Both the original solo version and the remixed version featuring McGraw and Chesney are included on the album.

Regrettably, Tracy’s chart resurgence was short-lived, as he was unable to come up with a blockbuster follow-up to “Find Out Who Your Friends Are”. The Hallmark-esque ballad “Til I Was A Daddy Too” was released as the second single, only reached #32, and the rather enjoyable don’t-get-above-your-raising tune “You Can’t Hide Redneck” petered out at #56.

The rest of the album is hit-or-miss. The title track is a true dud that is reminsicent of the type of barely-country drivel Kenny Chesney regularly serves up. Brad Arnold of the rock band 3 Doors Down is a guest vocalist. Both the lyrics and Tracy’s voice sound forced on “Just Like Her” and the well-meaning (and also Hallmarky) “As Easy As Our Blessings” is rather dull. For the most part, these songs make up the first half of the album. By the time the fifth track was over, I was really feeling disappointed, but fortunately things improve significantly beginnining with the sixth track, “Speed of Flight” which was written by Tracy and is reminiscent of his early 90s work. The Western swing flavored “You’re Why God Made Me” sounds like something George Strait might have released in the 80s, and along with the Texas dance hall number “Just Like That”, is one of the two best tracks on the album.

A mixed bag overall, For The Love is a better album than I was expecting, marred only by a few mediocre songs. The good songs outnumber the weaker ones, however, so it’s worth the modest cash outlay to get a used copy.

Grade: B