February 28, 2000 12:00 PM

Tracy Lawrence (Atlantic)

With 16 hit country singles to his credit, Lawrence could be forgiven for resting on his laurels. But on this, his fifth studio album, he sounds as if he is trying to impress listeners for the first time—and he’s succeeding mightily.

The 32-year-old Lawrence still has, alas, his Fabio manqué pretty-boy look, but his singing is grittier than ever. He has mined his own experience to write four of the album’s 12 songs, including the title track, a model country tune about the virtue of learning from mistakes. There is also a contagiously energetic Mark Nesler-Tony Martin song, “Up All Night,” that suggests a truckers’ anthem but is actually part of the rollicking soundtrack for a popular rodeo video game.

Lawrence has become a complete country singer, capable of shifting smoothly from that kind of uptempo tune to the philosophical “Unforgiven,” which is impressively thoughtful. Assisted by coproducers Flip Anderson and Butch Carr, Lawrence, who leaves his guitar in’ the case on this outing, has mustered together an exemplary group of backup musicians, notably the inventive steel guitarist Sonny Garrish and drummer Jack Gavin. They all contribute to the complete package, which is one memorable album.

Bottom Line: There are many bigger hats but few better singers

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