Trace Adkins has rarely approached anything -- in his life or career -- conventionally. At 6’ 6”, he dominates a room. He has one of those truth-telling country voices that just grabs you, whether it’s coming through a car speaker or over an arena sound system. Although a string of hits made him a superstar, he truly sings about the joys and challenges of everyday people. That knack for authenticity has created a huge base of devoted fans, sold millions of records and made him the most-recent inductee into the prestigious Grand Ole Opry.
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With his new album, Comin’ On Strong, the straight-shooting Adkins is shaking up the rules -- again.
Released just five months after his “Greatest Hits Collection, Volume 1” shot up Billboard’s pop chart and debuted at #1 on the country album charts, Comin' On Strong is perhaps Trace Adkins’ best work yet. Reunited with longtime producer, Scott Hendricks, along with co-producer, Trey Bruce, Adkins offers 11 tunes that are the essence of country music – lyrics about adult themes that feel absolutely real, melodies that stick in the mind, and just plain great interpretive singing.
The first single, "Hot Mama," has already become an out-of-the-box anthem for steaming up suburban bedrooms.
Adkins' mega-selling “Greatest Hits” was clearly a prelude to a new, highly seasoned point in this hitmaker's career. Rarely has an artist in any genre accomplished a top-selling Greatest Hits followed so soon by an album of equally strong material.
“I’ve always kind of had a kind of ‘I’ll show ‘em’ attitude, and I’m just feeling really confident right now,” Trace says in his thick, Louisiana baritone. “When we went in to make this album, I got lucky and found a lot of songs that spoke to a lot of experiences I’ve had – life experiences that I’ve been through that make me who I am. What I care about most is finding material that’s real – something I can sing with conviction and sink myself into.”
With this new album, he most certainly did.
Warning: This CD comes out of the gate like a Peterbilt with the sizzling opening anthem, “Hot Mama.” The Casey Beathard/Tom Shapiro tune is one of the most clever man-wants-woman songs to come out of Nashville in years. With its raunchy guitars and lusty beat, the first single was an obvious out-of-the-box hit as Adkins’ voice conjures up a perfectly-understated sexual tension. Lyrically, it doesn’t get any catchier than this:
You’re doin’ all you can
To get in them ol’ jeans
You want your body back
That you had at seventeen
Well baby don’t get down
Don’t you worry ‘bout a thing
‘Cause the way you fill ‘em out
Hey, that’s all right with me
I don’t want the girl you used to be
And if you ain’t noticed
The kids are fast asleep….
By the time Adkins growls that question (in a low-key delivery that conjures up the libidinous spirit of Conway Twitty), he has pulled back the permanent-pressed sheets of suburban bedrooms to say ‘wake up, love each other and enjoy life.’ It’s working.
“Fans have started showing up at shows wearing T-shirts with big question marks on ‘em saying, ‘You wanna?”, Adkins laughs. “And what’s great is it’s a song that guys like too. It’s perfect for a guy who wants to call up a radio station and dedicate something to his wife.”
The tune is much more than a female novelty song. It sets the mood for the entire album.
The title track, “Comin’ On Strong,” is a breezy, banjo-driven cowboy love song that captures what it’s like for a man “cool as Colorado” to fall hard for a woman – so hard that “she’s touchin’ my hat, and I don’t even care.” Trace says the song -- layered over fiddles, pedal steel and banjo -- left a strong impression on him when he heard the demo, because “this is a guy who has zero defense against this woman. He’s completely at her mercy. She can break his heart.”
Fans who loved the sass of “(This Ain’t) No Thinkin’ Thing” will love the revved up, sheet-rumpling “One of Those Nights,” a celebration of “one of those smiles you wear all day/’cause you can taste the kiss of passion waitin’ back home.” Adkins didn’t need a marketing department to figure out that people over 30 still like to have a little fun.
Quite often, Trace is also the guy on the other side of love. “I’d Sure Hate To Break Down Here” is a backbeat tale of a man, a truck (which happens to be at mile marker 203), a gas gauge on “E”, and everything he owns in a Hefty bag. Trace says, “I’m a sucker for double entendre, and this is one of the best I’ve heard. It’s as good as his 1997 hit “I Left Something Turned On At Home”.
Perhaps the most compelling tune on the album is “Then Came The Night,” a pedal-steel hymn about lost love. Trace says it’s “the most lyrically-beautiful piece of music I’ve ever recorded.” Penned by John Kilzer and Chuck Jones, the song really does come close to pure country poetry. “I can see those cotton sheets dancin’, on her mama’s clothesline in my head/From my lips a Lucky Strike was danglin’/The day was dyin’ in a sea of red.” Adkins delivery is alternately plaintive and lusty as the wheels in his memory think of a girl from long ago. Throw in a breathy recitation, and the tune is Trace at his best – Barry White with a roadhouse accent.
A sweet fiddle and memories of “the fragrance of your hair” open the gut-wrenching song whose title says it all: “Then I Wake Up.” In that tune, Trace offers a harsh reality check when he sings about “waking up on the floor next to our bed, where I sleep ever since the night you left me.” His voice is so lonely you can almost hear her pulling out of the driveway.
This is only a warm up to the heartbreak and regret of “One Night Stand,” a bare-light bulb ballad written by co-producer Trey Bruce. “There’s your PhD in songwriting, right there,” Trace says, referring to lyrics that paint a bleak picture of fold-down beds, a little TV and two windows looking out over a parking lot – all because of a regretful encounter with Angie at an airport hotel in Denver. If country music is about story songs, this one should be bound in leather.
Long before he was a country hit maker and television talk show pundit, Trace spent six years working on oil rigs, which is why he was attracted to the poignant ballad "Missing You." It’s a haunting tale of an offshore oil driller who dreams of his lover through hurricanes and waterspouts, and falls asleep with her letter in his hand. “That song really takes me back to a time when I was heartbroken from loneliness,” he says. “I think there are a lot of people in situations where they are cut off from the world.”
Though truth telling and introspection distinguish Comin’ On Strong, fans shouldn’t worry that Trace’s wild streak has disappeared entirely. On “Untamed,” he redefines the recklessness of youth into new, midlife verve when he ensures us that “even when I’m bent and broken, I pray my spirit always stays untamed.” He closes the CD with a big grin and some “straight pipe roar” with a teasing wordplay tune by Craig Wiseman, Blair Mackichan and Brian White called “Rough and Ready.” The hard-driving, fun-loving song sounds like a peel-out at a NASCAR race, fueled by references to the stereotypical costumes and customs of country fans -- “hot wings/Skoal ring/gun rack/ball cap/scarred up knuckles/Mack belt buckle.”
Get it? Adkins knows that millions of people do. And that’s exactly who Comin’ On Strong is for.
“This is who I am. This is what I am, for better or worse,” Trace says about his latest work. “But you know what? I feel good about it. I feel okay. I’m alright with who I am, and this just feels to me like a lot of good decisions made with a clear head for all the right reasons.”
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