My Kind of Country

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

Tag Archives: Flip Anderson

Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘The Rock’

the rockMany country artists recording a religious album tend to include a fair percentage of hymns and other wellworn gospel tunes. Tracy took the more adventurous path of picking all-new material. The range and quality of the songs, unfortunately, is less ambitious. He produced with Julian Lord, and released the record on his own label, Rocky Comfort Records.

Tracy wrote one song with longtime collaborator Flip Anderson, the opening confessional ‘Dear Lord’, which is okay but comes across more than a little cozily self-satisfied. Tracy’s own past well-publicized misdemeanours would seem to provide him with the real-life experiences to make a convincing job of much meatier material touching on sinners’ salvation.

‘I’m Done’ (written by Steve Seskin and Mike Shamblin) is the closest the album comes to that kind of song, and is much more interesting as a result. Here a troubled narrator decides to change his life around by forgiving his enemies:

Life hit me when I wasn’t looking
It dealt me a hard hand to play
I felt betrayed and forsaken
But I’ve been making the wrong people pay
And I’m done
I’m done

I’ve spent my last night in that prison
Where anger and pride were the bars
Hey, I’m here to tell you
I’m making peace with the past
And I’m not ashamed of my scars
But I’m done

I’m done harbouring grudges and nursing old wounds
Not clinging to grudges and singing the blues
I’m done pointing fingers at everyone else
I’m taking a long hard look at myself
A new day has begun
And I’m done

The production is a bit busier than necessary, but this song has a weight and depth too often lacking elsewhere.

Even better is ‘Up To Him’, a somber song rooted in real life written by David Kent and Tim Johnson, about dealing with hard times and the fear of worse, which is my favourite track. The narrator hedges his bets a little by combining prayer with his own efforts to get a leg up.

Who knows what’s going to happen in the end?
I just work like it’s all up to me
And pray like it’s all up to Him

The song was released as a single, and although it didn’t crack the top 40 did fairly well for a religious song on an independent label, peaking at #47.

The less successful follow-up single, ‘Somebody Who Would Die For You’ briefly narrates the stories of a homeless veteran, a neglected old father, and the victim of a school shooting. It is movingly sung, although the stories are a little disjointed and the strings swamp the arrangement.

‘The Book You Never Read’ slows things down quite nicely, as Tracy takes the voice of the Bible addressing a troubled soul. The similarly anthropomorphic title track is the story of a Savannah church, set to an attractive tune, led into by the churchy strains of an organ; a choir comes in effectively and appropriately on the last chorus and this is nicely done. These are both pretty decent songs.

Of the less memorable material, ‘Jesus Come Talk To Your Children’ also has gospel backing vocals, but is a bit shouty and demanding. ‘Say A Prayer’ is about prayer in difficult situations (alcoholism, cancer) and is clearly sincere, but heavy-handed and sentimental rather than having a clear message. ‘I Know Where Heaven Is’ and ‘Every Prayer’ are pleasant but forgettable.

This isn’t the best religious album I’ve ever heard, but it’s not bad. Used copies are available quite cheaply, so it’s worth picking up if you like Tracy Lawrence and religious material.

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

Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Tracy Lawrence’

tracy lawrenceAs the new millennium dawned, Tracy’s career hit another roadblock, this time one which was not self-inflicted: his label, Atlantic, closed its doors. He was transferred to sister label Warner Brothers for 2001’s self-titled release, but the move was not a longterm success. Tracy produced the album with longtime collaborator Flip Anderson, and there are no real surprises on offer.

I really like the single ‘Life Don’t Have To Be So Hard’, an encomium to a more relaxed way of life, set to a catchy melody. Unfortunately country radio was less enamored, and the song barely crept into the top 40. ‘What A Memory’, the only other single before Tracy departed Warner Bros, did even more poorly, although it is another fine song. A tearjerking ballad about a loving mother who dies far too young, it was written by Jeff Bates and Kenny Beard, and I found it moving.

The overriding theme on the album is one of maturity, learning from one’s mistakes and looking back with varying degrees of amusement and regret on the follies of youth.

‘I Won All The Battles’ is an excellent song, which Tracy wrote with Larry Boone and Paul Nelson. The protagonist realises too late that insisting to his wife he was right all the time was ultimately the cause of losing her love. It is by far the best of Tracy’s co-writes on this record. ‘Whole Lot Of Lettin’ Go’, from the same partnership, is quite a nice ballad about the lasting effects of an old flame, while love song ‘Meant To Be’ is lyrically rather bland, although it is nicely sung and played and has quite an attractive melody. ‘She Loved The Devil Out Of Me’, the last of Tracy’s co-writes, is a pleasant mid-tempo on a well-worn theme, which I enjoyed well enough despite its lack of originality. Alison Brown’s banjo works well on this and also backs up ‘God’s Green Earth’, written by Monty Criswell and Billy Yates. The latter sounds cheerful and perky, belying a heartbreak lyric.

‘It’s Hard To Be An Outlaw’ (written by Bobby Pinson, Larry Boone and Paul Nelson) takes a more jaundiced approach to the theme of a wild young man whose woman tries to “get the devil out of” him. In this case she has failed and walked away, and the protagonist has to face reality on his own:

I wouldn’t change
And now she’s gone I’m just not the same
It’s hard to be an outlaw
Outrun or outdraw
The laws of life that you once could ignore
It’s a desperate desperado
Who can’t see through his sorrow
What he was runnin’ from or runnin’ for
Oh, it’s hard to be an outlaw
When you’re not wanted anymore
There was nowhere left to turn to
But back to my old self
“I’m living like there’s no tomorrow”
Now meant somethin’ else
The trails I used to live to blaze
Are winding up dead ends
With a voice inside my head
Reminding me what could have been
I was wild as the wind
As cold as they come,
Thinkin’ I was cool
Now looking back,
Lookin’ at a fool

The up-tempo ‘Crawlin’ Again’ (written by Kenny Beard and Michael White) is a semi-ironic mumber comparing a man’s helplessness in the face of a woman’s power to reverting to infancy:

I’m back on the bottle, cryin’ out loud
I need holding and I need it now
Someone to rock me and then tug me in
It takes a mama 20 years to make a boy a man
Another woman 20 seconds to have him crawling again

It’s quite an entertaining song, which might have been a good choice for a single.

‘Getting Back Up’(written by Pinson with Marla Cannon-Goodman) is a downbeat ballad about coping with the failure of a relationship with a somewhat traditional feel. Some nice fiddle opens the otherwise rather uninteresting jazz-inflected ‘It’s Got You All Over It’.

The slightly-too sweet ‘That Was Us’ (written by Tony Lane and Craig Wiseman) looks back fondly on the narrator’s time as one of a group of wild teenagers who make mischief in their small town but whose good hearts are revealed in the final verse, when they make real amends. It was later recorded by Randy Travis on one of his religious records.

This is a serviceable and perfectly listenable record. It is currently out of print, but available digitally and as a CD-R from Amazon, and cheap used copies are also around. It’s worth picking up if you can get it at a moderate price.

Grade: B

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-

Album Review – Tracy Lawrence – ‘The Coast Is Clear’

CoastisclearTracy Lawrence continued with his usual team of Flip Anderson and Don Cook when he entered the studio to record his fifth album The Coast Is Clear, released in early 1997. Sans his trademark mustache and mullet, Lawrence updated his sound to fit the changing tides at radio with varying results.

Lead single “Better Man, Better Off” was Lawrence’s most progressive to date with muscular guitars and crashing drums framing his twangy vocal. The results paid off, with the track just missing the top of the charts. Second single “How A Cowgirl Says Goodbye” hit #4 and remains one of my favorite of his songs to date. Both, though, are equally excellent.

The next three singles didn’t fare as well and were the first of Lawrence’s career to miss the top fifteen. The title track, an effecting yet boring traditional ballad, peaked at #26. Somewhat dated (would’ve worked better in 1995) mid-tempo rocker “One Step Ahead of the Storm” became Lawrence’s first single not to chart, and excellent final single “While You Sleep” petered out at #46.

“Any Minute Now” is an excellent uptempo number, and the kind of song that hits my country music sweet spot. I also enjoy “Hit The Ground Crawlin,’” a mid-tempo honky-tonker and above average drinking song. The sinister vibe and excellent use of fiddle elevate “As Lonesome As It Gets” while “In A Moment of Weakness” works thanks to its tasteful traditional production and Lawrence’s beautifully confident vocal. The only song I didn’t care for was “Livin’ In Black and White,” an island theme number complete with steel drums and a somewhat clichéd lyric.

As a whole The Coast Is Clear didn’t do enough to match the updated sound of “Better Man, Better Off” so while it’s an enjoyable listen, it isn’t the ripe radio fodder Lawrence needed to keep his career afloat. His voice also sounds terribly nasally throughout, which dampens my enjoyment of the project, but at least the material is very, very good.

Grade: B 

Album Review – Tracy Lawrence – ‘Time Marches On’

51ikhsAYYjL._SY300_It was business as usual when Tracy Lawrence brought Don Cook and Flip Anderson into the studio with him to record his fourth album Time Marches On. A mix of traditional ballads and uptempo shuffles, the album fit squarely within the popular trends of 1996 and thus scored four huge top five hits.

Lawrence followed the excellent “If The World Had A Front Porch,” with another equally wonderful tune “If You Love Me.” Written by Paul Nelson and Tom Shapiro, the piano-led ballad represents everything I love about country music from that era (“If You Love Me” hit radio in December 1995) – clean tasteful production and nice twangy vocals. Given that ballads are a tough sell I’m surprised the track peaked at #4, which is more than deserved.

Bobby Braddock’s classic “Time Marches On,” a multi-generational story of a family living through the 1960s and beyond, was the second single and Lawrence’s biggest hit yet, peaking at #1 for three weeks. It’s one of my favorite country singles of all-time, and a good representation of what country music means to me.

Lawrence was on fire, deservedly so, and could seemingly get anything up the charts. “Stars Over Texas,” a ballad he co-wrote with Nelson and Larry Boone, came next and soared to #2. He clearly knew what he was doing because “Stars Over Texas” is a fabulous song with a nice traditional arrangement. I’m not surprised radio would play it, just that it would catch on enough to hit #2. Like “If You Love Me” the track warranted all the airplay it received.

Fourth and final single was the upbeat “Is That A Tear,” which featured a wonderful dose of fiddle throughout. The track was perfect for country radio and peaked at #2. The music video was also a trip, featuring Lawrence in a caper complete with car chases (he in a stolen taxi cab) and a prominent role by his then wife who would later accuse him of, among other allegations, domestic battery.

If Atlantic Records wanted to stretch the project to five singles, which was unheard of in those days, “Speed of a Fool,” co-written by Boone and Nelson, was a good candidate. The upbeat rocker boasts a wonderful mid-90s arrangement complete with a good helping of fiddle and steel guitar. The track is a favorite, and fits right in my sweet spot.

“Excitable Boy” is a throwaway rocker reminiscent of Joe Diffie’s music at the time, but suffers from a spastic arrangement and weird half singing/half-whispering vocal from Lawrence. He’s clearly going for an effect here, but he doesn’t reach it. Boone, Nelson, and Lawrence teamed up for “What We Give” and like their other collaborations on the album, it’s excellent. The song’s another upbeat rocker, but I love the ribbons of steel thrown in to add some sunny touches to the arrangement.

The can-do-no-wrong team of Boone and Nelson teamed up with Anderson for “A Different Man,” another upbeat tune that makes for a wonderful album track. The production is far too loud, and could stand a lot more breathing room, but other than that, it’s a very good song. Lawrence joined Boone and Nelson again to write (can you see a pattern here?) yet another winning track, “Somewhere Between The Moon and You.” It’s excellent but lacks the commercial sheen of “Stars Over Texas” so I can easily see why the latter was the ballad chosen instead. “I Know That Hurt By Heart” is just okay.

Time Marches On is very similar to Pam Tillis’ 1994 release Sweetheart’s Dance in that it’s a very radio friendly effort that’s also an artistic powerhouse. Except for two songs (“Excitable Boy” and “I Know That Hurt By Heart”) the project is near flawless, and a fine representation of the mid-90s sound in country music. Although the album is out of print (I bought mine around it’s original release), cheap copies are available, and well worth seeking out.

Grade: A+ 

Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘I See It Now’

i see it nowIn 1994 Tracy enjoyed some success with a single from the soundtrack to the movie Maverick. ‘Renegades, Rebels And Rogues’, which was a top 10 hit for Tracy. That track gave him his first opportunity to produce (alongside band member Flip Anderson). This partnership was to prove a durable one, and was continued on Tracy’s third album, alongside tracks produced by James Stroud. The set is dominated by ballads, and contains some fine songs. None of the four singles peaked any lower on the Billboard country chart than #2.

The lead single and title track is a pretty song with a graceful melody and a resigned lyric about a man understanding too late just why his relationship has failed. The prominent fiddle in the arrangement is particularly pleasing. Written by Paul Nelson, Larry Boone and Woody Lee, it peaked at # 2. Coincidentally, this was the same position achieved by its successor, ‘As Any Fool Can See‘, written by Nelson with Kenny Beard. The pace of this was a bit peppier, but it is on very similar theme to ‘I See It Now’, reading rather like a prequel to it.

The album’s sole chart-topper, and probably its best-remembered song,‘Texas Tornado’ was another ballad with a lovely tune. The Bobby Braddock tune is lovely to listen to, but the lyric seems to demand a more forceful pace than it gets. The nostalgic and idealistic ‘If The World Had A Front Porch’ is rather charming, and was another #2 hit.

Ireally liked the wistful ‘I’d Give Anything To Be Your Everything Again’, a sad ballad in which the protagonist revisits the home he once shared with his ex. ‘The Cards’ is also good, with a regretful Tracy rifling through a set of old birthday, anniversary and Valentine’s cards, poignant reminders of times past, while his ex has moved on. The mid-paced ‘I Got A Feelin’’ is pleasant but not very memorable.

The lively and colourful story song about a ‘Hillbilly With A Heartache’ is a duet with John Anderson. It is by far the best of the few up-tempo numbers. The title character, Hershel, sounds like a close relative of Mark Chesnutt’s hit from a couple of years earlier, ‘Bubba Shot The Jukebox’ (the melodies are pretty similar too). Of the other two, ‘Guilt Trip’ is rather forgettable lyrically and has the heaviest production on the album; it sounds like something designed with an eye on the linedancing market – bouncy and quite catchy but with no connection with the downbeat lyric. ‘God Made Woman On A Good Day’ is a rather lecherous bluesy number about hot women, which would fit right in on today’s radio.

The success of the singles helped it to sell well, and this was another platinum-seller for Tracy. Overall, this is a nice-sounding album but the material isn’t quite as strong as on its predecessors, and it does feel a little one-paced. However, it’s worth adding to your collection, as used copies are available very cheaply.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Tracy Lawrence – ‘Headlights, Taillights and Radios’

tracylawrencePress releases describe the title of Tracy Lawrence’s latest release as a having a special meaning: “Headlights” referring to the future, “Taillights” referring to the past, and “Radios” referring to his success on country radio. In a number of interviews, Lawrence has stated that he started out to make a traditional country record, but wanted to explore a more edgy and progressive sound, and that the result was a combination of styles meant to appeal to different types of country fans. All of this has left me somewhat confused. I’ve listened to Headlights, Taillights and Radios a number of times throughout the past week and I’ve heard a whole lot of “Headlights” and not a whole lot else.

Headlights, Taillights and Radios is the type of album one usually expects to hear from a major label artist that is just past his commercial peak and hoping to reverse his chart decline. Tracy Lawrence has been releasing his music independently since 2007, and aside from the anomaly that was “Find Out Who Your Friends Are”, has not not had much impact at country radio. At this stage of his career, I would have expected that he was through chasing chart success and ready to make some evergreen records. CMT.com says that the album “brings to mind the material that made him a star in the 1990s” and I certainly can’t argue with that, but comparison is not a favorable one. It just makes things that much more frustrating, because Lawrence started his career making some amazing music and certainly ought to know better.

The album contains two non-charting singles, starting with the annoying “Stop, Drop and Roll” which was released last year and sounds like something that Luke Bryan or Jake Owen would record. “Footprints On The Moon” is much better but still falls far short of what we used to be able to routinely expect from Tracy. “The Other Side of 35” is good lyrically, but is not served well by the generic production or Tracy’s vocal which sounds strangely disconnected and without passion. “Lie” is a decent track in which Tracy makes inquiries about an ex, but finds he is unable to handle the truth that she’s doing OK without him. The closing track “Butterfly”, which Tracy co-wrote with Rick Huckabee and his co-producer Flip Anderson, is enjoyable and far superior to most of the album’s other tracks.

Those are the “headlights”. The only “taillight” (and possible “radio”) songI could identify is the album’s sole standout track “Cecil’s Palace”, a dancehall number that is reminiscent of some of Tracy’s best 90s work. It is also the only track that isn’t almost completely devoid of any country instrumentation. I could have done with a whole lot more of songs like this and a whole lot less of the “edgy” and “progressive” fare.

The remaining tracks are bland filler that bleed together and aren’t worthy of mentioning individually. Headlights, Taillights and Radios is a disappointing effort from an artist who is capable of much better. I recommend downloading “Cecil’s Palace” and perhaps “Lie” and “Butterfly” and giving the rest of the album a miss.

Grade: C