My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Butch Carr

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-

Advertisements

Album Review: Marty Stuart – ‘Love And Luck’

Marty co-produced his fourth MCA album (released in 1994) with label boss Tony Brown. It lacked the big hitters of its immediate predecessors, with no Tritt duets and no big hits, and the momentum he had developed began to wither away as a result. It’s a fairly solid album with a mixture of country rock and more traditional sounds, and while Marty’s voice was still not distinctive, he interprets the mostly self-penned material convincingly. Vince Gill and Ricky Skaggs were recruited to sing harmonies, and Gill in particular is prominent on a number of tracks.

Lead single ‘Kiss Me, I’m Gone’, written by Marty with Bob DiPiero, peaked at a disappointing #26, and deserved to do a little better. The sultry bluesy groove is more memorable than the unremarkable lyric, but overall it is a decent track with an interesting arrangement. It was unwisely followed up by the mid-tempo title track, from the same writing partnership. The banal life advice from a father to a so leaving home is just not very interesting and barely charted. The tender ballad ‘That’s What Love’s About’ has Marty proffering romantic advice about treating a woman well, and is quite attractive with a lovely steel-laced arrangement, but although it was the best of the three singles, it was another flop.

The label may not have picked the right songs for radio, because there is some fine fare here.The pacy kissoff song ‘I Ain’t Giving Up On Love’ was written with the legendary Harlan Howard and feels a little too rushed, but is quite enjoyable, with tight harmonies, with the protagonist, battered by loving the girl who rejected his marriage proposal, stating bouncily,

I ain’t giving up on love, I’m just giving up on you

Harlan also co-wrote the high lonesome ‘Oh What A Silent Night’, with the protagonist facing an empty home after his woman has moved out:

The telephone’s been disconnected
But she wouldn’t call me anyway
But even if she did I wouldn’t answer
Cause there’s not one word left to say

This excellent song is a highlight of the record.

I also really enjoyed the shuffle ‘You Can Walk All Over Me’, written by Marty with Wayne Perry. This one offers unconditional surrender when falling in love

The best of the few outside songs is ‘That’s When You’ll Know It’s Over’, written by Butch Carr and Russ Zavitson, which is a gently sad declaration of undying love through the pain of a broken heart with a pretty melody.

The Byrds’ ‘Wheels’ is quite nicely if undadventurously done, with prominent harmonies from Vince Gill and Paul Franklin’s steel, but it could do with a little more urgency. Marty rattles his way through a speeded up emotionless version Billy Joe Shaver’s ‘If I Give My Heart’ which is oceans away from the intensity of the stunning original and is thoroughly disappointing. However, the worst inclusion on the album was the boringly repetitive and tuneless R&B/rock of ‘Shake Your Hips’, cover of an old R&B hit better known as a Rolling Stones cover. This was a waste of a track.

Halfway through he throws in the oddly titled (and Grammy-nominated) instrumental ‘Marty Stuart Visits The Moon’ which has a kind of bluegrass spaghetti western feel featuring Marty’s mandolin and Bela Fleck on banjo.

Overall, this is quite a good record despite its lower commercial success, which successfully balanced traditional and contemporary. If you can find it cheaply enough (and used copies seem to be fairly easy to find), it’s worth checking out.

Grade: B