Tracy Lawrence’s thirteenth studio album finds the multi-platinum singer at a crossroads of sorts. The title for the Headlights, Taillights and Radios project, which is available now, draws from the idea that Tracy is both looking back at his two decades-plus career in country music while also taking a significant step toward the future. Co-producing the album with his long-term collaborator Flip Anderson, Tracy does indeed offer some of his most progressive music to date in addition to dishing up some good ‘ol fashioned Honky Tonk.
The 11-song Headlights, Taillights and Radios album opens with a shimmering guitar and very Adult-Contemporary rhythm on “Footprints On The Moon.” Lyrically, the song is pretty different than Tracy’s past work, as visuals consist of him whizzing past Mars on a shooting star and slow dancing on the Milky Way. The slide guitar solo is perfectly spacey, the band is tight and the production is open and vast. However, Tracy doesn’t seem quite as comfortable here when supported by pop-leaning atmospherics as he does on the album’s more traditional numbers.
Though the moody, contemporary-influenced “Good Girl” (which was co-written by Kip Moore) features a more natural vocal performance, Tracy is at his best when singing a straight up country song. Headlights, Taillights and Radios has plenty and songs like the laid back, twang-filled “Stop, Drop and Roll” and the dramatic power ballad “Lie” showcase a voice that is agile and strong. “Lie,” one of the collection’s standouts, touches on universal feelings when faced with the fact that an ex has moved on. “Cloud of Dust” spins a dark tale full of the desire to leave it all behind when the only thing underneath your wheels is concrete and Pittsburgh steel. Tracy digs deep to find a song’s nerve and then shows the ability to ride with it through dynamic changes.
The nostalgic “Where I Used To Live” is a road song powered by a rolling chorus and flowing piano melodies. Tracy’s skill at delivering everyman feelings speaks to his brand of country as strong visuals usually lead the way. Some of the album’s most passionate moments come on the ¾-time “Saving Savannah,” where the lines, If I have to burn down Atlanta, I’m bringing Savannah back home, sting with a bluesy touch. Tracy co-wrote two of the album’s songs, which happen to be a couple of its best. “Cecil’s Palace” is a roadhouse Honky Tonk full of tongue-in-cheek wisecracks. It’s a truck stop, casino, strip club, bingo, hooka and sushi bar, he sings of the ultimate watering hole. And on the introspective, “Butterfly,” he changes course to wrap Southern Gospel inflections in an inspirational testament while pretty mandolin flutters through.
Tracy exudes a confidence here and maybe that’s because he knows where he’s at and where he’s going. The wisdom he shares on “Other Side of 35” where, it’s a lot of years since 17, but it ain’t as old as it used to seem, is a strong sentiment that sticks around after the album has finished. For Tracy, on Headlights, Taillights and Radios, that outlook serves him well with a project that hints toward a bright new chapter in his career.
Key Tracks – “Lie,” “Butterfly,” “Cecil’s Palace,” “Where I Used To Live”