Excuse me? The First Amendment? Son, the First Amendment protects you from the government. Not from me. You can say whatever you want to out there. But come within reach of me and I’ll exercise my right to give you a good old country ass-whuppin’ ...
- “Fightin’ Words”
Trace Adkins is an especially good live performer, but with each album release he seems to get better at this old recording lark. Dangerous Man is his seventh CD—if we don’t count his Greatest Hits Collection, Volume One, and it reinforces the lesson I’ve already learnt from radio hits such as “Every Light in the House”, “Rough and Ready” and “Lonely Won’t Leave Me Alone”. A big man with a big hat, a likeably warm baritone, and a fine ear for a crowd-pleasing song, Trace Adkins is one of those country types you could end up enjoying despite yourself.
In his songs, as in his roles on King of the Hill, Adkins is not above taking a good-humoured look at the Southern stereotype he tends to espouse. But at the same time, there are some issues he takes too seriously for joking. Check out the country rock grind of “Fightin’ Words”, for example. Adkins is, he says, a “peace-lovin’ type” who prefers to walk away from a fight. So you can laugh at the way he talks, or the hat that he wears, or his big old truck and his hackles will stay unrisen. But say anything about his God, his mother, his dog, his woman or his country, and Boy, you’re looking at a world of hurt.
Or consider “I Came Here to Live” or “The Stubborn One”, two slices of traditional and touching family values set to precise country perfection. Adkins is getting better and better at expressing the honest emotions of even the roughest, toughest bad mother-trucker out on I-10.
And then he’s also capable of completely nailing the classic manly man moods. Single “Swing”, for example, takes a massively extended baseball metaphor to the pick-up rituals, and does it with a set of Yawshua stainless steel hooks. “Ride” is a worthy addition to the splendid tradition of southern rock trucker anthems. And you already know how “Ladies Love Country Boys” goes:
She grew up in the city in a little sub-division
Her Daddy wore a tie, Momma never fried the chicken
Valets. Straight A’s. Most likely to succeed
They bought her a car after graduation
Sent her down south for some higher education
Put her on a fast track to a law degree
Now she’s coming home to visit, holding the hand
Of a wild-eyed boy with a farmer’s tan
But then, just when you think you’ve got Adkins completely sussed, he throws a song like “Ain’t No Woman Like You” into the mix just to confound you. Take away the far-from-intrusive steel guitar, and it’s a pure rhythm ‘n’ blues slow dance love song rich with southern lyrical references. When a singer like Gretchen Wilson adds a Billie Holliday song to the end of her album, it all seems just a little spurious. Yes, it reveals some additional textures in her voice, but it adds nothing to the record as a whole. “Ain’t No Woman Like You”, by contrast, both fits sweet-as-a-nut into its place in Dangerous Man and makes it clear that Trace Adkins’ voice really is as good as you thought it was all along.
One of the many great things about country music is the fact that many of its songs tell stories rich with detail. There’s precious little of that “Please could you stop the noise, I’m trying to get some rest from all the unborn chicken voices in my head” Pink Floyd rip-off crap in Nashville. And just as novelists have long been writing books with screenplays in mind, so a singer like Adkins seems to have a knack for selecting material that will translate seamlessly to CMT and GAC.
His massive hit, “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”, was little more than Sir Mix-A-Lot set in a country bar, and it worked hellaciously well on the screen. So much so that the “video mix” of a song that originated on Adkins’ Songs About Me is included on Dangerous Man. Similarly, listening to songs like “Ladies Love Country Boys” and “Fightin’ Words”, it’s impossible not to picture the video of the hit single. The line in the latter, for example, where Adkins admits to a belief in an eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth simply screams out for a comic close-up on a missing tooth. Or perhaps the glint of a golden one?