HOT TALK: Tracy Lawrence Returns, The Gospel According to Alabama

Plus, Crystal, Ronnie, Ralph and Rhinestones

(HOT TALK is a weekly column by longtime CMT.com contributing writer and former Billboard country music editor Edward Morris.)

Alabama Will Record Gospel Album
Supergroup Alabama are working on a gospel album. “I just got a call from [band member] Jeff Cook,” Grand Ole Opry star Charlie Louvin tells Hot Talk, “and he said that they had always wanted to record a gospel album but that the label [RCA] wouldn’t let them. … He indicated that they want to cut a bunch of Louvin Brothers songs for the album. That would be a huge boost to my life.” (Louvin, a native of Alabama, is already enjoying a sizable boost in recognition thanks to the release last year of Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers. That collection recently won a Grammy as best country album.) “We’re in the process of working on [a gospel album.]” Alabama’s publicist Greg Fowler confirms. “But that’s really all we have to say about it at this time.” He adds that the group does not yet have a record label signed for the project.

Louvin says he’s kept an eye on Alabama since it was a local act. He recalls going to see the band play at a furniture store in Rainsville, which is near their hometown of Fort Payne. “Instead of showing up and just doing an hour’s show,” Louvin says, “they showed up an hour and a half early and said, ‘If it’s OK, we’ll just start now.’ And the guy [at the furniture store] said, ‘OK. Go ahead.’ So they worked a two and a half hour show and were only getting paid $100.”

If Alabama does dip into the Louvins’ capacious bag of hymns, they can choose from such fiery sermons as “I Like the Christian Life,” “Satan Is Real,” “The Family Who Prays,” “Love Thy Neighbor As Thyself” and “I’ll Live With God to Die No More.”

Tracy Lawrence: Coming On Strong
With his single, “Paint Me a Birmingham,” boiling up the charts and an album, Strong, poised for release this spring, Tracy Lawrence met with reporters Thursday (Feb. 19) at the ASCAP building in Nashville to talk about his re-emergence as an artist. He’s been absent from the charts for almost two years. Lawrence said he will be touring this year with his friend and former labelmate John Michael Montgomery, who’s also riding a resurrection single, “Letters From Home.” Both singers were certified superstars during the 1990s, but both went into decline after their home label, Atlantic Records, closed and left them stepchildren on the Warner Bros. doorstep.

Now 36 and freshly signed to DreamWorks Records, the once rowdy Lawrence told the reporters that age and family have mellowed him. “That guy’s gone,” he said of the hell-raising gun-toter whose antics sometimes got more press than his music. “I made a whole lot of mistakes in the last several years,” he conceded. “I had a lot of fun, but I don’t think I could live through it again.”

Clad in black hat, black shirt and jeans, Lawrence looked trim, fit and thoroughly ready for the road. He reminded his questioners that he’s the same age now that Brooks & Dunn were when they made their breakthrough. He reported his knee is mending from a third operation performed before Christmas. (The surgery was to correct a gunshot injury he suffered in 1991.)

Lawrence said he had just completed a two-week tour of clubs and was about to head out for another 10 days. He sang four songs from the new album: “It’s All How You Look At It” (which he said will be the next single), “Paint Me a Birmingham,” “A Far Cry From You” and “Bobby Darwin’s Daughter.” He was accompanied by guitarists Jason Roller and Dennis Parker and fiddler Joe Caverlee.

Responding to a question about the effect his native Texas has had on his music, Lawrence said it taught him the importance of playing the kind of music that keeps people on the dance floor. “I’d love to do an album of nothing but swings and shuffles,” he mused.

His move to DreamWorks reunited Lawrence with James Stroud, who produced his first albums. Stroud now heads DreamWorks’ country division and is listed as Strong‘s sole producer. On recent albums, Lawrence had served as his own producer, but he made it clear he was happy to relinquish that chore to an A&R team he trusts.

Stroud praised Lawrence’s ability to choose the right songs for himself. Speaking of their decision to record “Sticks and Stones,” which became the singer’s first No. 1, Stroud said, “I knew it was good; he knew it was a hit.” About two years ago, Stroud met with Lawrence and Warner Bros. president Jim Ed Norman to plan an album. But by the time the album was completed, Warner had hired a new chief creative officer, Paul Worley, who didn’t see it fitting into his overall plans for roster development. He agreed to let Stroud take Lawrence and the album to DreamWorks.

“The goal [of DreamWorks],” Lawrence explained, “has been to reconnect me to where I was supposed to be.” His own ambition, he continued, is “getting back to that elite status in the Top 5 pack.”

Stroud became tearful when he recounted Lawrence’s brush with death in 1991, soon after they had finished recording the Sticks and Stones debut album. He said he got a call from the Nashville police asking if he worked with “a kid named Tracy Lawrence.” When he said he did, the caller said, “He’s been shot all to pieces.” Stroud later discovered that Lawrence had been shot four times while resisting a robbery.

Stroud said he rushed to the hospital and that the first thing Lawrence said to him was, “This won’t stop me from being an artist.”

“And then,” Lawrence interrupted, “I told him to remix the record.”

To which Stroud responded, “And I said I wish they’d shot you in the mouth.”

Crystal Gayle, Ronnie Milsap Will Sing For Future Stars
Crystal Gayle and Ronnie Milsap will headline the Stars for Future Stars concert March 2 at Nashville’s Belcourt Theater. The show is to raise funds for the Nashville School of the Arts, a magnet school for students who aspire to careers in the performing or visual arts. Gayle’s daughter graduated from the school, and her son is currently a student there. Other artists on the show are Gretchen Peters (who wrote “Independence Day”), Benita Hill and Marion James. The money raised will be used to pay for costumes, stage sets, musical instruments, recording equipment, field trips and related matters not covered by the regular budget. Show time is 7:30 p.m.

Ralph Stanley Duets With Paul Burch
Ralph Stanley has recorded “Little Glass of Wine,” a Stanley Brothers standard, as a duet with Paul Burch for Burch’s upcoming album on Bloodshot Records. This past December, Burch toured with Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys on their swing through England, Scotland and Ireland.

It’s Rhinestones, Damn It! Not Sequins
In my recent listing of upcoming books on country music, I implied that Nudie Cohn, the fabled designer and costumer, dealt in sequins. Not so, scolds his biographer, Mary Lynn Cabrall. “Nudie used rhinestones — the highest quality Austrian crystal stones (brand name Swarovski) — to dazzle the eye and embellish his work. Calling them ‘sequins’ is a common mistake, but it does cheapen the clothing and the reporting.” Ouch! Point taken. Cabrall’s book, co-authored with Jamie Lee Nudie, is Nudie the Rodeo Tailor: The Life and Times of the Original Rhinestone Cowboy.

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