Country singer-songwriter Tracy Lawrence had the working title “Chicken Wire” for his 16th and latest album, a reference to roadhouses where country bands played behind chicken wire for protection from thrown bottles and cans.
Then he and co-writers Rick Huckaby and Adam Sanders wrote the album’s last song, “Made in America,” and it got a new title.
“I wanted to say something about American pride that was not politically divisive. I wanted to focus on the things we take pride in: the pride in a job and hard work, pride in our community, pride in our school teams,” he said.
Lawrence released the single before Memorial Day with the full album arriving this Friday, and he started opening his concerts this summer with the song. Audiences seem to like what they hear, he said: By the time he hits the chorus, they’re singing along.
Waco audiences will get their chance on Aug. 22 when Lawrence and his band, with Texas singer-songwriter Bri Bagwell as opener, perform at the Waco Hippodrome. Expect to hear more than one song from the new album scattered among such well-known Lawrence hits as “Alibis,” “Time Marches On” and “Paint Me a Birmingham,” he said.
“I’m really excited about the new album. It’s really different from anything I have done,” said the 51-year-old musician. “Made in America” isn’t so much different in sound or style, but origin: He wrote or co-wrote eight of its 12 songs with another three from his publishing company. Rather than picking and choosing from others’ available songs, Lawrence and his writers started with the ideas and let the songs follow. “We would write at what I wanted for the record,” he said in a recent phone interview from near his Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, home.
“Made in America” isn’t the only new work the Texas-born, Arkansas-raised Lawrence has unveiled this year. Early in 2019, the play “Storming Heaven,” a story set in the bloody and turbulent world of Appalachian coal mining in the 1920s before the miners vs. military battle of Blair Mountain, saw its first full production at West Virginia Public Theatre in June.
Lawrence and Flip Anderson wrote the music for the play, which Katy Blake and Peter Davenport adapted from Denise Giardina’s novel, and it’s the culmination of some seven years’ work for Lawrence. Writing music to set mood and tone for the play’s scenes proved a stimulating experience. “it was kind of freeing to me, writing to extenuate the mood,” he said.
Though one might think there’s an overlap between praise for the working man in “Made in America” and the coal miners of “Storming Heaven,” the two are far different in intent and tone, with the play traveling into far darker territory of its period’s anti-union violence, he said.
In addition to songwriting, performing and composing, Lawrence also spends time producing and acting, a variety that’s intentional. Years ago, Lawrence suffered from career burnout, but found an answer in having his managers take over some job duties while he branched out into some new endeavors. That variety, he said, helped revitalize him. “I’m enjoying my job again,” Lawrence said.
The hard work he takes pride in is revealed during his shows, he said.
“One of the things I’m most proud of is that the music that comes out of the speakers is going out from the seven musicians on stage,” he said.