If I were Tracy Byrd, I wouldn’t have released an album in the last decade either. What would have been the point, just to have it summarily ignored by an industry obsessed with youth and debauchery as some of the best country music voices of our time get shoved out to pasture?
And if I were Tracy Byrd, about right now I would see it as about the perfect moment to release a new record, with the whole upsurge in interest in more traditionally-leaning country and all. In fact some of the managers and money guys that were behind Tracy Byrd in his heyday are the same folks that are now throwing their weight behind major label traditionalist upstart William Michael Morgan. There’s a new hope in old-style country, and many are looking to get on board.
Tracy Byrd may have never reached superstar status, but he accrued a pretty remarkable list of statistics during his mainstream run. Two #1’s, 13 Top 10’s, and a boatload of albums sold in the ten or so years he was signed to major labels. But of course he paid a price with some of his country music credibility to get there. Cheesy country pop songs such as “Lifestyles of the Not So Rich and Famous,” and the notorious “Watermelon Crawl” that many love to cite as the most glaring example of country’s early 90’s line dance craze run amuck leave the legacy of Tracy Byrd a mixed bag. But like some of today’s country stars, Tracy Byrd’s radio singles covered up his more substantive material that still holds up today.
At this point, who cares how many albums Tracy Byrd sells? He’s got plenty of money, and can finally make music for the most important member of his audience: himself.
Tracy Byrd’s All American Texan is self-released, self-promoted, and showed up virtually unannounced after his extended recording hiatus, almost as if Byrd doesn’t care if folks are clued into its existence or not. The album is preceded by virtually no explanation of it, aside from the obvious fact that Byrd took time out of his announced retirement in 2009 to make it. His days of having label managers and producers breathing down his neck are in the past, and now he’s ready to do what he wants, which is apparently to sing a lot about Texas, and a lot about religion.
All American Texan has some really choice cuts on it—arguably some of the best cuts of Tracy Byrd’s career. The opening title track is pure honky tonk country music fun. “Texas Truck” is a breakneck Western Swing song that’s a pretty big hoot too. For those not clued in, Tracy Byrd is originally from Vidor, Texas, and is not afraid to flaunt it. The song “It’s About The Pain” is also receiving considerable buzz from the few that have stumbled onto this album for its staunch take on what a country song should be.
But All American Texan stops a bit short of being a cover to cover quality comeback record similar to what Mark Chesnutt turned in with Tradition Lives earlier this year. Though Tracy Byrd puts his heart into every song, some of the cuts still come off as a bit pedestrian in the writing, even if the record remains solidly country throughout.
On Amazon, the record is slotted in numerous Christian categories, and lumped in with “country” almost as an afterthought. Though I have no qualms with Christian music, and Tracy Byrd can make whatever kind of record he wants, it feels like All American Texan is a mix of a secular and religious effort, which creates a bit of clashing of content in the end. There’s a reason country artists have always kept religious and secular records separate, aside from maybe a religious song or two on an otherwise non-religious record. All American Texas is a good example of why that’s probably a good idea. The mentions of God and Jesus are fine, but some of the preachy-ness feels out of place.
Those who’ve been waiting patiently for the triumphant return to Tracy Byrd will find plenty to be happy about in All American Texan, while others will have their dug-in opinions about how he was part of the problem with country in the 90’s validated. Though you may have to pick and choose through this one, it’s still good to hear some solid cuts from a familiar country music name.
1 1/2 Guns Up (6.5/10)
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