Rodney Atkins’ fourth album, Take A Back Road, set for release on October 4, hits stores immediately on the heels of the record’s lead single reaching the top spot on the country charts in late September. The No. 1 single, title track “Take A Back Road,” is a laid back, groove-heavy sing-along that gets a little nostalgic over shady groves and wide-open fields. It’s also the fastest-rising single of Rodney’s career, begging the question, is the 42-year-old singer from Knoxville hitting his stride?
Co-produced by Rodney and Ted Hewitt, Take A Back Road is a crisp collection of twelve songs concentrating on themes that have been central through Rodney’s career and on past hits like “These Are My People” and “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy).” On Take A Back Road, Rodney focuses his attention on relationships, love and the importance of family.
Songs like the pulsing “She’s A Girl Ain’t She,” with thick percussion and deep bass, celebrate wives and daughters while touching on a few intricate complexities. Did you think beautiful would drive you so crazy?, Rodney knowingly sings over sweet acoustic guitar lines. On the playful “She’d Rather Fight,” a traditional-leaning number and one of the album’s standouts, Rodney sings with a wink, Had reservations at that Japanese steakhouse/ Don’t need to go where they’re throwing knives around, when the object of his affection would rather fight than do anything else. Though the approach here is simple, the lyrical twists offer an interesting and thoughtful perspective on navigating the bumps in the road.
Rodney’s vocal delivery is strong throughout the record. Tracks like the hard country “He’s Mine” emphasize his southern drawl and ability to move creatively through a melody. With unique spacing and pauses, Rodney proudly sings of his son, Friday night, football games, livin’ for the speakers to call the name/ On the back, number twenty-seven, just one-forty-five and five-foot-eleven. On the optimistic, bluegrass-tinged “Family,” Rodney takes the good with the bad in a statement of acceptance and love toward his relatives. Amidst acoustic guitars, banjo and a touch of harmonica, Rodney sings, I didn’t choose ‘em, but I’d hate to lose ‘em/ You gotta love ‘em, man, they’re family.
Rodney co-wrote three of the songs on the collection, including what might be the album’s best song, the reflective “Growing Up Like That” (co-written with Hewitt and Ben Hayslip). Rodney’s bouncing vocal pattern is locked in with the thumping acoustic guitar and percussion as he sings in the catchy chorus, I learned the birds and the bees from the cats and the dogs, and a frog starts out as a pollywog. While the words make you smile, the delivery and undeniable hook sink deep to express the fond memories of growing up outside the city limits.
Take A Back Road is a tight collection that cuts to the essence of Rodney’s music. Songs are catchy, radio-ready and full of hooks. At the same time, there’s a thoughtfulness to the lyrics and an ease when conveying themes that have long been important to him. The record is not breaking new ground or veering into uncharted territory, but it’s not trying to do that. What it does do is capture an artist who knows himself and his message – an artist hitting his stride down a back road.