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Published: Thursday, 8/6/2009

Hit-maker Tracy Lawrence isn't afraid to experiment

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Tracy Lawrence knows how to produce hits - those songs that are blasted across mainstream country radio and danced to at honky-tonks.

He's piled them up, starting with his No. 1 single "Sticks and Stones."

What he didn't know for the longest time was if he could keep a promise to his parents. But, almost 20 years after producing his first single, he has kept that promise. It comes packaged in his latest album, "The Rock," a 10-song project laced with inspirational Christian messages.

"My parents have asked me repeatedly over the years [to make this album], and it's something they've wanted me to do," Lawrence says. "The last several years as my wife and I started our family, we started going back to church regularly and really getting our life pointed in the right direction. I felt like I was in the right place in life and my career to do this album and have it make some type of impact."

From top to bottom, it's a solid album, some of the best work he has done. These are not remakes of gospel classics. Each of the songs is an original story about life experiences.

"When I was preparing for this project, I started listening to Christian radio. I've been blown away by how powerful the format is. I've never done song searches for this type of music. It's a whole avenue that I missed out on over the years."

Lawrence knew that he'd have trouble selling the music to mainstream radio because the initial perception is that it's a gospel album, but he's quick to reclassify it. He doesn't refer to it as a gospel or a Christian album, but rather as inspirational country.

"I didn't want it to be over-the-top preachy. I wanted it to be uplifting. It's not a true Christian album. It's just a lot of stuff that's inspirational."

It has made an impact on Christian radio, but he's been frustrated that he's been having trouble getting airplay on country radio for the first single, "Up to Him," a song that talks about struggling in life and reaching a point where you turn over your problems to God.

"Country radio can't see past the end of their nose to understand what this album is about and how relevant it is. It's been a struggle, but we knew it would be," he says. "There are times in life when you make a project that if it reaches just one person, then it's done what you wanted it to do. I've gotten so much great feedback from people. It's done what it's supposed to do, and I'm very proud of it even if it doesn't sell another copy. I made it for the right reason."

Tomorrow night, fans at the Northwest Ohio Rib-Off will hear some of the material on the new album, but they will also hear the commercial side of Lawrence, hits that include "Time Marches On," "Paint Me a Birmingham," "Alibis," and "Find Out Who Your Friends Are."

"I've been doing longer shows lately - about an hour, 45 minutes to two hours. I've been trying to get a lot of the older stuff and a few things that fit the mood of the show that maybe weren't singles from my older albums. I'll do a couple things from every album I've done so that people feel like they leave with their money's worth. This band is tight. We blow people away every night."

What fans will also see is a man on stage who is content with his life.

"I'm very happy at home. My children are healthy. Artistically, I feel like I'm writing the best material of my life. I'm feeling really good about what the future holds. I'm in a good place, and at 41, that's a good place to be in."

Tracy Lawrence and Luke Bryan will appear at the Lucas County Fairgrounds in Maumee at The Andersons Northwest Ohio Rib-Off presented by The Blade at 7 p.m. tomorrow. Admission is $8 and includes the concerts. Information: nwohioriboff.com.

Contact Brian Dugger at:

bdugger@theblade.com.



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