One of the finest Top 40 Texas honkytonkers, Tracy Byrd has had his share of overproduced hits, but when it all comes down, he can still sing real live, true-blue hard country. I dunno: I like him, at least a lot of the time I do. That's way more than I can say about Garth Brooks or Tim McGraw. Anyway, here's a quick look at his work...




Discography

Tracy Byrd "Tracy Byrd" (MCA, 1993)
(Produced by Keith Stegall & Tony Brown)

A rock-solid hard-country debut, with a kid from Beaumont, Texas who's obviously listened to a lot of Merle Haggard records... There's a nice retro feel to this record, not just looking back at the West Coast/Bakersfield sound, but also to the neo-traditionalist style of, well, the early '80s when honkytonkers and poppy novelty songs went hand in hand... At any rate, this is a very solid record, one that fans of all the Hanks can get into, as well as commercial country fans... Obviously, since Byrd became one of the biggest country stars of the decade. This is a great record, full of good-natured, uptempo honkytonk-pop. Fun stuff... Recommended!


Tracy Byrd "No Ordinary Man" (MCA, 1994)
(Produced by Jerry Crutchfield)

Eminently likeable, melody-driven neotrad poppy-tonk. Byrd opens with the peppy line-dance anthem, "The First Step," an irresistible little toe-tapper that's inexplicably been left off his greatest hits packages... This is followed by "Lifestyles Of The Not So Rich And Famous," one of the best uses of Jeff Foxworthy-style white trash stereotypes that I've heard so far... Some of the material is kinda strained, but the good stuff is a lot of fun!


Tracy Byrd "Love Lessons" (MCA, 1995)
(Produced by Tony Brown)

Paired up with hotshot neotrad producer Tony Brown, Byrd scores a rock-solid set of modern Nashville arrangements, nary a false step nor a brick out of place in this country-pop edifice... It's slick, but still traditional sounding. With the production end so tightly nailed down, the main question is how good the songs are, and the answer is, not bad -- not bad at all! Byrd doesn't write or co-write any of these tunes, but his song selection is remarkably strong. Mark Nesler, who contributed one tune to the No Ordinary Man album, returns with three new tracks here -- his specialty seems to be imitating Merle Haggard, which is a little silly, but not really a liability, since the style suits Byrd so well. Melba Montgomery also makes an appearance, co-writing "Don't Need That Heartache," a swell little shuffle tune taken at a brisk clip that suggests Tracy has actually listened to some of Melba's old albums. The album's lead-in, "Walking To Jerusalem," is a real puzzler, though, with Byrd complaining about a devout Christian Bible study gal who won't return his affections: it's funny, but wasn't anyone worried that it might alienate their conservative fan base? (On second thought, good for Tracy! Nice to see somebody who has a sense of humor about this stuff!) All in all, a fine album; possibly the best of his records, from a hard country perspective.


Tracy Byrd "Big Love" (MCA, 1996)
(Produced by Tony Brown)

Mellowing out, Byrd delivers a fairly conservative, by-the-numbers Nashville set, tilting towards the romantic side of things, and toning down the good old boy vibe. The sound is still your basic neotrad fiddle'n'steel, with a few dips into Strait-like western swing... All of which is nice, and easier on the ears than the high-tech stuff other Nashvillers were tilting towards... Overall, though, this is a pretty tame album. Highlights include the loping "Driving Me Out Of Your Mind," and his throaty cover of Johnny Paycheck's "Don't Take Her She's All I Got," which sounds just like the original (a pretty darn good tune to begin with...)


Tracy Byrd "I'm From The Country" (MCA, 1998)
(Produced by Tony Brown)

He's still playing the sensitive softie, but the production is more punchy on this disc, adding oompf to even the mid-tempo ballads... Maybe the echoes and multitracking go a little overboard at times, but basically this is a pretty strong album. Very listenable in a guilty pleasure kinda way, give or take a power ballad or two... Some of the "rowdy" numbers have the right sound, but have a mellow edge, particularly "I Still Love The Nightlife" (he still parties and stays up late, but now it's with the little lady, not at the bar with his buddies) and "Walk The Line," where he promises a hottie in a bar that he's ready to settle down. The title track's kinda corny, in a Hank Jr. kinda way... but this disc got some nice stuff on it, so I ain't complainin', really.


Tracy Byrd "It's About Time" (MCA, 1999)
(Produced by Billy Joe Walker & Tracy Byrd)

The opening song, a drippy, weepy breakup ballad worthy of Kenny Rogers ("Put Your Hand In Mine") is followed by the uptempo title track, which has a great beat, but is one of those overly-calculated, overly-detailed "issue" songs that are all the rage in Nashville (the woes of a two-income working family, etc. etc.... I don't mind the topic, it's just the clumsiness with which they write the lyrics that bugs me...) Then he settles into a more rugged mode, kinda gettin' all Paycheck/Haggard on us. The super-sappy stuff (radio singles, mainly) is awful, but the hard country album tracks are pretty good, particularly "Every Time I Do" (which is very well written) and his loping version of "Undo The Right," which are as solid as any honkytonker could hope to record. More goopy stuff follows, but the good tunes are great.


Tracy Byrd "Ten Rounds" (BMG, 2001)
(Produced by Billy Joe Walker & Tracy Byrd)

His switch to a new label seems to have unfortunately provoked an unfortunate impulse towards musical overcompensation -- the tunes are just waaaaay overproduced, tossing in as many glitzy studio tricks as they could think of... Very turn-of-the-century Nashville. The title track, "Ten Rounds With Jose Cuervo," is fun in a very-Jimmy Buffett kinda way, but did he really do a cover of "Wildfire"? And "How Much Does The World Weigh"? Yeesh. He regains some of his equilibrium later on, but on the whole, this is such a super-calculated piece of product, rather than a heartfelt album, that it's kind hard to get into. Feels like a sales pitch, rather than a record.


Tracy Byrd "The Truth About Men" (RCA Nashville, 2003)
Well, god bless Tracy Byrd for putting out such a great, uncomplicated, uptempo Bubbadelic country tune as this album's title track. It's a good, funny novelty song that lightly touches on the war between the sexes, and takes a few pokes at the guy side, in a good-natured, not taking htis too serious kinda way. Tracy loses ground almost immediately afterwards, though, with the next track, "You Feel Good," which is apparently meant to be one of those chick-bait, sensitive-guy ballads, in which Byrd gets all sensual and oooh-baby. The songs starts off with a real clunker of a line, about how he "likes sleeping in the nude, underneath the stars..." Dude: keep it to yourself! That's definitely more information than we needed to know! Seriously, though, Byrd is still doing a good job keeping things real; as he rode out the millennium-era wave of ridiculously overproduced Nashville pop crossovers, he remains a vital neotraditional singer who can come up with some pretty decent honkytonk material, and can sell the songs with his deep, gruff delivery. This disc's worth checking out, and has more than a couple of keepers on it.


Tracy Byrd "Different Things" (Rocket Science, 2006)
Like many current and former country chart-toppers, Texas honky-tonk popster Tracy Byrd has recently turned to making independently-released records... In his case it's not a matter of having been forgotten by country radio -- his last record had several sizeable hits -- but I guess he just wanted to do things "his way." Turns out it's not all that different than what you'd expect him to release on a major label... Maybe there are a few more references to Texas, but mostly this is a familiar mix of smoothed-down barroom ballads and slower romantic tunes, with just enough twang in there to keep him on this side of the red dirt road. Naw, it's not some raw-knuckled, bare-boned hard country lovefest, but it's also not as gooey and pretentious as some modern Nashville pop (Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw) can get. All in all, it's a solid effort from a veteran country crooner -- fans will be happy, and Byrd will be too, once they get ahold of this disc. If you dig Top Forty twang, this one's worth checking out.


Tracy Byrd "Different Things: The Acoustic Mixes" (Rocket Science, 2006)




Discography - Best-Ofs

Tracy Byrd "Keepers (Greatest Hits)" (MCA, 1999)
A damn fine album, gathering some well-crafted tunes while skillfully balancing out the goopy with the groovy. Even the schlocky romantic ballads that they chose to include, such as "Keeper Of The Stars" and "Love Lessons" are of a generally higher calibre than many other similar songs he's recorded. A strong set, very well selected, and definitely worth picking up.


Tracy Byrd "The Millennium Collection" (MCA, 2001)


Tracy Byrd "Greatest Hits" (BNA, 2005)


Tracy Byrd "The Definitive Collection" (MCA, 2007)




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