Country conversion: Tracy Lawrence goes Christian

Sun Jun 28, 2009 11:24pm EDT

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NASHVILLE (Billboard) - Country singer Tracy Lawrence's life has had an interesting trajectory, from hero to hellraiser to heaven-bound family man. The latest chapter is chronicled on "The Rock," his first Christian album.

The self-released album debuted at No. 4 on Billboard's Top Christian Albums chart and No. 20 on Top Country Albums earlier this month.

Even before Lawrence debuted in 1991 with the No. 1 hit "Sticks and Stones," he made headlines when gunmen tried to rob him and his girlfriend. He fought back -- allowing the girl to escape -- and was shot four times, delaying his Atlantic debut.

Lawrence became one of the most successful artists of the '90s, known for hits like "Alibis," "Paint Me a Birmingham" and "Time Marches On." But he also developed a rough-and-rowdy reputation. He made headlines again in 1997 when his wife filed charges for battery following a marital spat. They divorced, and he took time away from the spotlight to straighten out his life.

Lawrence says that he'd wanted to do a Christian record for several years, but "I haven't been in the right place spiritually. I didn't feel I could do the album justice."

Now remarried with two children, Lawrence has returned to the family values of his childhood. "Having kids brought me back around to that place," he says. "And my career is thriving again. It seemed like it was the right time."

Instead of recording a collection of classic hymns, Lawrence chose originals. "I wrote a few things for the album but only put one on there called 'Dear Lord,'" he says. "I did a three-month search for new material and was overwhelmed and inspired by the caliber of songs I found."

The lead single, "Up to Him," speaks to the struggles of America's working class. "When I recorded this music last year, I had no idea the country was going to be in the shape that it's in financially," Lawrence says. "In retrospect, it seems like I've never done a more appropriate album for the times."

Lawrence has been doing in-stores at Wal-Marts and Christian retailers as well as press, including an interview with the Gospel Music Channel. "Oh yeah, the questions were asked," Turner says, noting that Christian gatekeepers questioned his rowdy past and current motivation.

"My wife and I joined a Methodist church five or six years ago," Lawrence says, "and it's been extremely healthy for me getting close to people within the organization and close to the pastor. It's brought a great peace to my life. It's just been a very healthy few years for me, a lot more so than the first 15 of my career."

(Editing by Dean Gooodman at Reuters)

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