Rodney Atkins

Take a Back Road

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Rodney Atkins' fourth album for Curb generated excitement over the summer of 2011 due to its title track's pre-release single, which shot up the charts due to its hook, George Strait namecheck, and nearly irresistible, soulful female harmony chorus. Co-produced by Ted Hewitt and Atkins, Take a Back Road advances virtually every studio trick and songwriting formula (read: cliche) in contemporary country music, and it's meant to. That single likely won't be the last one from this set, either. More than any record in his catalog, Atkins -- with Hewitt (and more than likely Curb's A&R staff) -- sculpted this record for a long run on the charts. It utterly lacks any hint of originality Atkins may have ever possessed. "He's Mine" is momentarily arresting, with enormously compressed electric slide guitars underscored by bass drums and tom-toms. They're briefly supplanted by acoustic guitars and Atkins ever-so-sincere vocal quieting things down in the first verse. It doesn't last. The rest is a slow shuffle, fueled by '80s hair metal-sounding guitars playing 21st century contemporary country bombast. (Think of a collaboration between .38 Special and Ratt backing Montgomery Gentry and you get the picture.) "Family," with its wah-wah harmonica and strummed acoustic and pedal steel guitars, back Atkins' baritone in celebrating all that's weird and wonderful in blood relations. The ballad "Feet" is simply embarrassing for its exaggerated cornball sentimentality: "...We go to bed buttin' heads and tuggin' sheets/But we never go to sleep/without touching feet." The backwoods nostalgia in "Cabin in the Woods" is offset by shimmering synths in the midtempo pop song entitled, ironically, "Just Wanna Rock N' Roll." "Tips," one of four tracks co-written by Atkins, features blazing "redneck rock" guitars, but they're anchored by a banjo to make it safe for "country." All the while, the tune directly cops a riff from Lynyrd Skynyrd -- Atkins namechecks their "Gimme Three Steps"; good thing too, because without that riff, there's no song! There isn't an original melody, lyric, or production element on Take a Back Road. That said, these simple facts virtually guarantee the album's place on the CC charts. It perhaps very cynically "gives the fans just what they want." If only the country music fans would finally say, "enough is enough."

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