Trace Adkins’s artistic identity may be the most fractured in country music, raging from the depths of ‘Honky Tonk Badonkadonk’ to the artistic heights of songs like ‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired’. This album, Trace’s second for Show Dog Universal, has its share of the raucous and insubstantial, but mainly it focuses on Trace the family man, satisfied with his life. Unlike the similarly themed recent work of Brad Paisley, Josh Turner and Darius Rucker, however, the songs on this theme are all solid and worth hearing. I have already written about the heartwarming ‘Just Fishin’, the album’s first hit single and one of the best things to hit country radio this year. This track alone was produced by Michael Knox, with the remainder of the album in the hands of Kenny Beard.
The title track (written by Chris Wallin, Aaron Barker and Ira Dean, apparently specifically for Trace) is also very good, with a reflective look at the protagonist’s life, with memories of an early career playing “for tips and compliments”, while driving a truck worth substantially less than the radio. The equilibrium of the present day is convincingly portrayed, as Trace declares:
I’m just proud to be on the right side of the dirt
I’ve been loved and I’ve been lost and I’ve been hurt
I leave the hard stuff up to God
Try not to worry about a whole lot
And I have no regrets for what it’s worth
I’ve been living on borrowed time for years
And I’m just proud to be here
The production gets a bit heavier than I would like in the second half, but this is a heartfelt vocal on an excellent song which seems to reflect Trace’s true feelings about his life.
‘Million Dollar View’, written by David Lee Murphy and George Teren is a cheerful country-rocker about satisfaction with a happy domestic life which sounds tailor-made for country radio. Much better, but potentially also commercial, is the mellow take on chilling out and escaping from the world’s pressures on ‘Days Like This’, which is one of Trace’s rare writing credits, alongside producer Kenny Beard and Casey Beathard.
One of the highlights is ‘Poor Folks’, an excellent song written by Ray Scott and Philip Moore, with another fishing reference. It’s about what really makes wealth, as the materially poor narrator is happy in life and love, and can pity the loveless rich, who he says are the poor ones:
We’re not on first name basis
With the folks down at the bank
But we know we’ve got it all
When we turn out the lights
And we wonder what the poor folks are doing tonight
The ones out there who ain’t got nothing on us
They’ve got everything else in the world
But it still ain’t enough
Wishing they were the owners of love like yours and mine
With a short spoken section which is very reminiscent of former Warner Brothers artist Scott’s own version (on his 2008 album Crazy Like Me), this is very nicely realized, and sung much better than the original.
I also love ‘Always Gonna Be That Way’, which may be the best song Dallas Davidson has ever had a hand in writing (Chris Tompkins co-writes). This looks at things that won’t ever change in a small country town – most importantly, the narrator’s love for his wife. Tasteful gospelly backing vocals and a pretty tune work well together to bring the lyric alive.
Married love song ‘That’s What You Get’ (written by Beard with Rivers Rutherford and Aly Cotter) is disappointing, lacking in melody and with intrusive backing vocals, including the voice of former country artist Shelly Fairchild. The one thing I did like was a gravelly line with Trace scraping along the bottom of his vocal range, which has a character and sexiness which is worth listening to. The same backing vocals show up on ‘It’s A Woman Thang’ (written by Craig Wiseman and Jim Collins), which tackles disparate personality traits in men and women in a heavy-handed and cliche’d manner which is probably intended to be funny, but isn’t. I’m also rather tired of people spelling ‘thing’ with an a to make it sound cool.
The religious ‘It’s Who You Know’ (written by Rutherford and Beard with Wendell Mobley) is also rather lacking in melody and too heavily produced, but has a more substantial lyric, and veers off into quite an interesting aural experiment when a preacher (Drake Everett) offers a spoken/shouted counterpoint over the last chorus. I’m not sure I like it particularly, but it is effective. A bluesy groove in ‘Love Buzz’ gives it a gloomy feel belying an upbeat lyric. I rather enjoyed it despite the apparent dissociation between the words and the music. The dark feel of the track brings out the addiction metaphor used for love, making this more obsession than true love or fresh romance.
The deluxe version has four additional tracks, but no additional liner notes or credits, which seems sloppy. ‘Damn You Bubba’ is (while limited melodically) a highly entertaining slice of sibling rivalry, with the protagonist railing against his brother who has found love and a J-O-B, whereas he D-O-N-T.
‘If I Was A Woman’ is a duet with Blake Shelton, co-produced by Mark Wright. I’m not normally a fan of horns in country music, but they work here in this rather silly song, presumably an answer song of sorts to Reba’s recent cover of Beyonce’s pop hit ‘If I were A Boy’, with the two men clearly even less serious than they were on ‘Hillbilly Bone’. This is another Trace co-write, with Beard and Jeff Bates, and Australian singer Sherrie Austin providing a genuine female input into the writing.
‘More Of Us’ is a potentially polarizing diatribe against people who want God out of public life, because “there’s more of us than there are of them”. Finally, ‘Semper Fi’ is a respectful tribute to the members of the US Marine Corps, penned by the Adkins/Beard team with Monty Criswell, which fits well with past soldier themed recordings by Trace like ‘Arlington’ and ‘Til The Last Shot’s Fired’, although unlike those songs this is about the living example of service rather than those making the ultimate sacrifice.
This album is a mixed bag, but certainly much better than Trace’s first effort for Show Dog Universal.