Rodney Atkins spent nine years in Nashville struggling to make it as a singer and songwriter. He grew up poor and while he always wanted to be an entertainer, he worked his way through Tennessee Tech before heading to Nashville. He got signed to Curb in 1997, but his first singles failed to make a dent in the charts. He finally hit number four in 2004 with the song "Honesty" and followed it up with an album by the same name. The album was a modest success, and set the stage for If You're Going Through Hell. Wanting to make an album with a less produced sound, Atkins cut the vocals for If You're Going Through Hell in his small home studio. The song was the album's lead single and shot to number one on the charts; it was also the most played country single on radio in 2006. "If You're Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)" is a big, anthemic song that tips its hat to everybody who's ever had a hard time. Its soaring chorus is as much pop as country, as is the production, which featuring bagpipes, a thumping drumbeat, and a wall of fiddles and banjos. Other hits include "Cleaning This Gun (Come on in Boy)," the tale of an overprotective father trying to intimidate his daughter's first date by showing up on the front porch with his rifle. Atkins sings it first from the perspective of the young man, then as a new father with a young daughter of his own, and strikes the perfect balance between love and aggression. "These Are My People" is a celebration of growing up country. It's a string of clichés, the kind of song that can sink under its own sentimental weight, but Atkins delivers it with a sly humor that makes it believable. "Watching You," the first number one that Atkins co-wrote himself, went gold. It's a midtempo rocker that details the way kids will mimic everything their patents do from cussin' to praying. If You're Going Through Hell was reissued in 2010 by Cracker Barrel Old Country Stores with two bonus tracks: "Farmer's Daughter," Atkins' hit single of June 2010, and "More Like Your Memory (Always Takes Me Back)," one of the first tunes he ever wrote, a poignant ballad of lost love and regret.
AllMusic Review by j. poet