When Larry Fleet wants to dig in his heels and write a powerful, message-forward song, he calls up Connie Harrington.

It was Harrington — the pen behind Lee Brice's "I Drive Your Truck," Blake Shelton's "Mine Would Be You," Ashley McBryde's "Bonfire at Tina's" and so many other emotion-driven country songs — who sat down with Fleet to write "Where I Find God," the hair-raising breakout ballad that found the singer charting a non-linear path toward faith, meaning and a life well lived.

So as he contemplated the prospect of crafting his new album — Earned It — as a reflection on the hard work that brought him to becoming the well-rounded family man he is today, it makes sense that Fleet would return to a co-writing session with Harrington, and even more sense that she would help him write the project's first and title track.

"When we go in for a memorable, powerful-type song, [Harrington] is who I wanna be writing with, because she digs hard and she works for it and I like to do that, too," Fleet explains to Taste of Country.

They wrote at Harrington's lake house that day, taking breaks for coffee, lunch and fishing. Landing on a title for the day was easy: When he and Harrington compared notes, "Earned It" was a title they'd each independently written down in their lists of song ideas.

The song quickly took shape as Harrington began rattling off life lessons — "Number one, money don't grow on trees / Number two, trust ain't a given" — all building up into the matter-of-fact realization that making a simple life isn't that simple at all. It's built in sweat equity, with bricks laid and promises kept, and the results are something that anybody can, and should, be proud of.

Fleet cites his two young children and his perspective as a parent as big influences on his music over the past few years.

"That's how the song came out: Life experience. And then I named the record that because I felt like it set a good pace for the record," he continues. "It's not meant to be a cocky statement at all. It's for the working class people. You work hard for something, you're proud of that, and that's what it is. It's the working man's pride. It's a pat on the back for him."

The rest of Earned It fits the parameters of that theme, to some extent. With a 21-song track list, things would get a little repetitive if they were all message songs. Fleet says he put together the album the way he puts together a set list — a nod to the emphasis he places on his live shows, the backbone of his career to date.

"You know, I haven't really had a ton of radio support — when it came to 'Where I Find God,' I don't know if it ever broke the Top 40," Fleet points out. "It started where we could only sell 50 tickets and got to where we could sell maybe a couple thousand, and that's been my main thing, building a live show...So I try to give 'em a good show and a really cool experience."

Ranging from good-timing traditional country to a three-song ode to the nomad's life — "Try Texas," "Tennessee on You" and "Muddy Water" — there's something for every listener on this project, but Fleet adds extra heart into the message-driven songs. If you're looking for a drinking anthem, you'll find it in the jokey "Beer Needs a Beer" — but Earned It's penultimate track, "Daddy Don't Drink," rings much truer to the singer's own life.

In that song, Fleet — who's been sober for a couple of years now — describes his path to giving up alcohol, framed as a letter from a father to his children. "Things were gettin' out of hand / Didn't wanna be that man / Hey, I want my boots to be the kind that you / would wanna grow into / My world changed by God's grace / The day you were born / That's why daddy don't drink no more," he sings in the tender chorus.

"It was one of those things, I put it down and I haven't felt the need to drink. It was mostly because I don't like my kids seeing me drunk and acting a fool," Fleet relates. "And the way social media is, the way everything is now — everything you do is under a microscope."

As his kids are getting older, and as his star rises, he doesn't want drinking to ever cause pain or embarrassment to his family — whether his kids see that happen in real life or on social media. But even more importantly, Fleet says, he wanted to show his children that you don't need to drink alcohol to have fun.

"This is me being the best I can be. Me not being drunk is me being the best me," he continues.

"I will say, if I'm playing ['Daddy Don't Drink'] for a room full of people drinking beer, it can be a buzzkill. But it's also a song that I've had people come back and they'll say, 'Man, I quit drinking when I heard that song,' or 'I quit drinking two years ago,' or five years ago, or whatever it is," Fleet reflects. "I wrote it from a very personal place, and everything about it was true for me. I did it for my kids. But so many other people relate to it."

This isn't the first time that Fleet has brought up his mandate to speak for his fans: The people who face the same challenges and reap the same rewards as he does, but may not have his gift for writing a lyric or playing a guitar. As much as Earned It is a personal statement of his own working man's pride, Fleet says, it's a tribute to a whole class of people building their lives and families one hard-earned brick at a time.

"[I had my first job when I was] 14 years old. I started working as a bricklayer. It was really hard manual labor, but I earned every dollar that I ever made. Most of the world is like that. Most of our country is working-class people," Fleet sums up. "...There are so many people in the same boat I'm in. They just don't know how to make words rhyme. So I'm happy to be their voice."

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