Unlike many of his peers, you will not hear pretty-boy pop piffle from Tracy Lawrence. Indeed, with his new album, Lawrence chose songs that among other things, tells of a man who's moving on with life, a good life. And he went out of his way to include songs that in some way highlighted his influences.
"I had several key elements to prioritize with this new record," Lawrence says. "I think you can hear some things that are reminiscent of George Jones. There's a song on there that's reminiscent of some old Waylon things. It's got that great 4/4 backbeat to it. I felt like it was very important to keep key elements of what I consider the Tracy Lawrence sound, which would be a very melodic waltz, a couple of midtempo things that are reminiscent of 'Sticks and Stones.' Things I've had success with through the years, I felt I didn't need to deviate from that."
Now, all that doesn't mean that Lawrence merely stuck with complete familiarity. He indeed did experiment within the constructs of his distinctly country sound. For example, he used a dobro out front on a trio of songs: "God's Green Earth," "Life Don't Have to Be So Hard" and "That Was Us."
"I used natural dobro, used some bluegrass sounds on 'God's Green Earth' and on 'Life Don't Have to Be So Hard,' I went with a straight, true dobro sound and made it rattle a little more and got away from that slick Nashville polished sound," Lawrence says. "I put those three songs on there and cut those songs in that direction because I wanted to give myself a place to grow with a little different sound than I had in the past. It's important for an artist to grow within some sort of a boundary."
No question. At the same time, veterans like Lawrence know fully well that you tinker with care. Primary among his goals with the new album was that it had to be country. No compromises.
"That's what I came to Nashville to do," he says. "There's so much pressure from the record labels, even though I've been fortunate enough to stick to my guns and cut traditional country music, but at the same time I've always been pressured to try to straighten the boundaries and stuff."
Even now, with a decade of hits behind him and a solid fan base to draw upon thanks to hits like "If the World Had a Front Porch" and "Time Marches On," even Lawrence felt that with some of his more recent records, he may have strayed a bit far from a country sound that he wanted. So, he reeled himself in.
"When I was gettin' ready to make this album, it just kind of hit me between the eyes that all of a sudden I wasn't recordin' the kind of music that I came to Nashville to do. It wasn't drawin' from the inspirations I had growin' up. I just really wanted to go back and make this kind of record. It was very satisfying for me this go around. I really enjoyed makin' this record. I went against the grain from what everything else in Nashville is right now, and I'm happy about it."
Even though radio, to this point, has treated it with a lukewarm shrug.
"You know, the bad thing is that radio says 'give us country. Nobody is giving us country anymore.' Then when you give them country, you have a hard time gettin' played," Lawrence says. "It's very frustrating. Especially when you're trying to give them real true traditional country.
"But you know what? I made a conscious decision that I wanted to go back and cut this type of album from top to bottom. I hope word of mouth will help spread this project, that there are people out there who are passionate enough about it to tell their friends. I've gotten a lot better remarks on the content and quality of this record as compared to the last one. People are hungry for this. I don't think Nashville is giving fans this type of music right now."
Take "She Loved the Devil Out of Me," the 4/4 backbeat tune that hearkens to Waylon Jennings' best from the '70's. That's true-to-life stuff, folks. When he sings of a woman who basically rode the waves down into the pits of life and back up again with him, Lawrence speaks the truth.
"I wrote that song about my wife. I'd been through so much tough stuff the last few years, personal problems, backing out of the limelight and trying to get my life together, and I'm telling you what, she really did that for me. I wanted that song to be on this album for her because she was somebody who came into my life that believed in me when I felt like my whole world was fallin' apart. When somebody really believes in you, it can motivate you to get yourself together and really move on. She saved me."
And today, he leads a normal life. Goes shopping with his wife. Tail-gates with his buddies at Tennessee Titans football games. Life doesn't have to be so hard after all, does it Tracy Lawrence?
"Man, I go to Kroger around here. I've lived in the same house since '93," Lawrence says. "My wife and I are pretty well dug in out here in Mt. Juliet. We go to the grocery store together, go out to eat around here. After a while, people get used to seeing you, and it's no big deal. We just go sing somewhere on the weekends. It's a real good job. I'm gonna hold on to it as long as I can."