Album Review: Rodney Atkins – It’s America
After a fairly modest–if not unnoticed–debut album (Honesty, 2003), Rodney Atkins seemingly came out of nowhere in 2006. Ditching his Stetson for a ball cap, Atkins was able to notch four consecutive number one hits by harping on suburbia-friendly pseudo-country themes that had far-reaching appeal.
Now Atkins is back with It’s America, a predictable album that simply picks up where his previous effort, If You’re Going Through Hell, leaves off.
It’s America lacks emotional gravitas, instead settling for frothy feel-good, I-am-blessed commentary about how fantastic the world is. Atkins should sell this disc alongside those stick figure “Life Is Good” t-shirts.
In fact, this album is so upbeat that there’s only one song reasonably classifiable as a ballad (album closer “The River Just Knows”). Even “When It’s My Time”–a song about death–is somehow twisted to create an unprecedented level of optimism.
A quick reading of Atkins’ biography helps solve the mystery of all this inherent happiness. As a sickly, orphaned infant, he was adopted several times–and then returned because he was too much of a burden for some families to handle. Eventually, he found a family that stuck with him through his sickness and gave him the opportunities that lead to his music career.
It’s a heartening story, but its manifestation in Atkins’ music leads him down a very narrow artistic path. What about the pain of being rejected so many times? What about the fear he must have felt being so sick? What about the confusion of not really understanding where you belong in the world? There must be a wealth of emotionally compelling source material to draw from, but here Atkins is solely focused on the silver linings. Those linings would be prettier if they were set against some clouds.
Still, there are a few successful moments–mostly when Atkins decides to take on decidedly country arrangements. “15 Minutes,” for example, is a fun tune (co-written by former The9513.com Critic’s Pick Jamie Lee Thurston) that sounds like something from the Kevin Fowler/Brad Paisley playbook. Likely to be a crowd favorite, it’s a song that shows the same kind of thoughtful, clever hook that those artists have built careers around. Elsewhere, “Rockin’ of the Cradle,” with its driving, steel-laden track, is another solid listen–even if it does fall into a category of songs boasting unusually peachy outlooks.
There’s nothing wrong with optimism, but contrast serves a purpose and this type of material would benefit from being on a more diverse album. The best albums take us through a gamut of emotions and circumstances, but It’s America takes us to only one place–a big happy country utopia that doesn’t exist.
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