My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Trace Adkins – ‘Songs About Me’

By 2005, the quality of Trace Adkins’s music had dwindled to new lows. He had finally reached instant-add status with country radio, but like Blake Shelton today, had compromised his music, especially his radio singles, to reach the top. That trend continued with Songs About Me. It may have earned double platinum certification, but it’s easily the most controversial album of his career.

At the time the second single, “Arlington” was climbing the charts (it peaked at #16), Adkins’s record label decided to pull the plug on the military ballad and rush-release “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” to country radio. There was much talk that “Arlington,” a first person story of a soldier buried in the national cemetery, offended military families due to the first person account. But on the flip side, the country music world considered the song a surefire #1 hit. While I understand where the controversy stems from, I personally don’t think it was warranted. It’s easily one of Adkins’s best performances and deserved its due.

Of course, when “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” came into the picture, all was forgotten about the debacle with “Arlington.” It stirred up an even bigger ruckus and caused even greater debate about sexism and the boundaries of country music. It didn’t help that the almost R-rated music video made Shania baring her midriff, Reba wearing her red dress, or Lorrie Morgan strutting around her bedroom in “Something In Red” all seem like a non-issue. That he scored a monster hit with this song (it peaked at #2) only proves that country music (and its fan base) has veered away from its ideals.

There is nothing about this song I care for whether it be the subject matter or the disastrous production values. That a dance version was created only sank this one lower in my book. In his defense of the song, Adkins said he would’ve recorded it for his debut Dreamin’ Out Loud had it been available at the time. I would’ve liked to see him get away with that in 1996.

But the most alarming thing of all was who wrote “Badonkadonk” – Jamey Johnson, Randy Houser, and Dallas Davidson. I can see where the Davidson influence comes in, he did co-write “Country Girl (Shake It For Me)” with Luke Bryan, but the Johnson and Houser connection always throws me. Why would two of the best traditional voices recording country music today write something so offensive to the traditions of country music? It just doesn’t seem characteristic of them to me. To be fair, I understand “Badonkadonk” is all in good fun, but I take the ideals of country music very seriously, and in no way does this song fit with someone who’s a member of the Grand Ole Opry. Even Dixie Chick Natalie Maines saw the writing on the wall at the time – she openly wondered where the Chicks music would fit on country radio between “Badonkadonk” and Joe Nichols “Tequlia Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.”

Apart from the disastrous third single, which actually doesn’t fit in context with the rest of the album, Songs About Me gets more right than wrong. While there are a couple of filler power ballads, most of the tunes are understated and showcase the path I want Adkins to travel down with his music.

The title track, a song about singing about who you are, is the only “power” song he actually got right. The rock like production of heavy guitars and drums suits the passion he exudes in his vocal performance. The aforementioned “Arlighton” is a masterpiece and a lesson in using your voice to execute a powerful vocal track.

I also enjoyed “My Heaven” a song in which Adkins lists out what his idea of heaven is – a wood framed house with a porch swing with the kids playing in the yard eating watermelon and spending time with his wife. While the title might suggest more religious undertones, it’s actually a sweet tale made even stronger by the soft mandolin and understated production. I love that he sounds like he’s trying here to create a special moment and not just mailing it in for the sake of filling out an album. While not as memorable as other tunes on the subject, it’s a sweet tale that actually works. I enjoy the marriage here of his voice and the production – instead of reacting like oil and water, they work to compliment themselves nicely. He should record in this vein more often, or at least release these kinds of moments as singles.

“Metropolis,” another highlight (also recorded by its songwriter Anthony Smith in 2003 and Sammy Kershaw in 2008), finds Adkins playing the role of a man trying to make a living and juggle his career and his family. On songs like this, the way he manipulates his voice makes you believe the story he’s trying to convey. A prequal of sorts to “My Heaven,” “Metropolis” should’ve been a single and reminds me a lot of his future monster smash “You’re Gonna Miss This” but without the flash. I love the gorgeous guitar-laced production that helps opposed to hinder his vocal.

In contrast, “I Learned How To Love From You,” hits some but not all of the right notes. A good showcase of his voice, the strings and paino create a mix that overbears the lyrical content and Adkins’s emotional delivery of the song. I might’ve enjoyed it more had it been more starkly produced and a bit toned down. But it is going in the right direction of where Adkins should be as an artist.

As for the duds, “Baby I’m Home” is exactly the kind of immature song you’d expect from Adkins, especially in this period of his career. As he proves on “Arlington” and “My Heaven,” he’s above such trite lyrics as “She’s got 100 candles burning/she’s got next to nothing on,” or at least I want him to be. It’s songs like “Baby I’m Home” (and “Badonkadonk” of course) that keep my appreciation for Adkins quite low. Why is it that all men of a certain age can sing about is hot women?

“Find Me A Preacher,” recorded as “Somebody Find Me A Preacher” by Chad Hudson in 2008, is overwrought and the in your face mix of loud guitars and drums distract from Adkins’s performace. It isn’t too bad, considering how little feeling he puts into the song. As far as album cuts go, this is second-rate filler. I liked how Hudson makes his tale believable, Adkins just seems like he’s trying to fill out an album.

In the end, Songs About Me is a pretty consistent project split down the middle between questionable choices, and moments of growth. Given that this project gave the world “Badonkadonk,” I wasn’t expecting a whole lot of artristy, but was proven wrong by most of what Adkins has to offer this time around. Songs About Me still didn’t convert me into a diehard fan, but a few of the better moments came awfully close.

Grade: B 

13 responses to “Album Review: Trace Adkins – ‘Songs About Me’

  1. Razor X August 22, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    “Arlington” is an outstanding song.

  2. Occasional Hope August 22, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    If it wasn’t for the witless Honky Tonk Badonkadonk, this really isn’t too bad. Arlington’s the best song (and dumping it for Badonkadonk is one of the crassest decisions imaginable), but there are other tracks I enjoy.

    • Razor X August 22, 2011 at 1:14 pm

      To be honest, I’ve never listened to this one all the way through. I refused to buy it because of “Badonkadonk”. I just downloaded “Arlington” and never bothered with the rest of it.

  3. luckyoldsun August 22, 2011 at 4:52 pm

    “…the path I want Adkins to travel down with his music.”
    “He should record in this vein more often,…”
    “But it is going in the right direction of where Adkins should be as an artist.”

    You may think that Trace Adkins should be paying you to chart his career–or maybe you’d even be willing to do it for free–but for some reason or other, he doesn’t think so–and I don’t blame him.

    Hey, I find most of Adkins music to be pretty crappy or at least disposable, but I wouldn’t go around telling him what to do. He’s found a formula that seems to work for him.

    And I never heard of the word “badonkadonk” before Adkins’ song came out. I found out that it comes from hip-hop. I personally wouldn’t buy the song, but I’ll bet you that there isn’t a country songwriter in Nahsvillle who would not have jumped at the chance to write that song as soon as they knew about the word “badonkadonk.”

    • Razor X August 22, 2011 at 7:54 pm

      “You may think that Trace Adkins should be paying you to chart his career–or maybe you’d even be willing to do it for free–but for some reason or other, he doesn’t think so–and I don’t blame him.”

      Um, he was giving his opinion …. that’s what we do here. 😉

      • luckyoldsun August 23, 2011 at 12:23 pm

        And I was giving mine. (And you gave yours.)

        You’ll notice, I didn’t tell him he shouldn’t give his opinion. I just insinuated that his opinion is a bit presumptuous..

  4. J.R. Journey August 22, 2011 at 5:54 pm

    The word “badonkadonk” spent several years in the street-slang vernacular before making its way into hip-hop culture.

    Regarding that song, I don’t think it’s one of Adkins’ worst, and if I’m in the right mood, I can find it more than okay. The rest of this album is just as hit-and-miss for me. I never thought “Arlington” was as end-all great as others, and, I’ll probably get myself in trouble for saying this but the “controversy” was definitely unwarranted. The military and military-minded are more sensitive than an abscess tooth. so it didn’t surprise me. I do like the title track a bit, and “Metropolis” too.

    • Razor X August 22, 2011 at 8:02 pm

      I don’t remember any controversies surrounding “Arlington” at the time it was on the charts. I agree that the controversy — to the extent that there was one — was unwarranted. But in googling it to find out what all the brouhaha was about, it sounds to me as though the objections come more from the anti-war crowd — for the song’s presumption that the fallen soldier is proud to have given his life — as opposed to a perceived sleight by the military or the military-minded.

      Controversies aside, to stop promoting the single in favor of “Badonkadonk” was a true travesty.

  5. Leeann August 22, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    If I remember correctly, this album introduced Trace’s more muscular sound, which hasn’t exactly been my favorite development.

    I actually don’t hate “Badonkadonk”, but “Arlington” is one of Trace’s very best.

  6. Paul W Dennis August 23, 2011 at 12:16 am

    If you deleted “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk” and replaced it with almost anything else, this album would rate an “A” . Even having Trace do a cover of “Achy Breaky Heart” would have been preferable

    I definitely liked “Arlington” (my Dad is buried there, so I’m prejudiced) and “Songs About Me” was one of Trace’s best

  7. Andrew Leprich August 24, 2011 at 7:25 am

    “Arlington” is among my very favorite Trace Adkins songs (perhaps second only to “Til The Last Shot’s Fired”).

    I’m entirely indifferent to “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk.” It’s not a particularly good song and I wouldn’t be upset if I never hear it again, but I don’t think it’s of deplorable quality or anything. It is what it is.

    Like all Trace Adkins albums, this one is very hit and miss for me. There are some good to great songs (Arlington, the title track, Metropolis, and although I agree with you about the overwrought production, I like “Find Me a Preacher”), but the album is marred by too much overproduced filler. Overall, this is probably an above-average entry in Trace’s discography, but I’m still waiting for him to deliver an album that’s consistently high-quality. The closest he’s come for me is with “X.”

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