Album Review: Rodney Atkins – It’s America

Pierce Greenberg | March 31st, 2009

Rodney Atkins - Its AmericaAfter 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 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.

2 Stars

  1. bobby
    March 31, 2009 at 10:21 am

    I haven’t listened to this yet, but my problem with the last cd was that with maybe one exception, all the songs were upbeat. It sounds like this has the same problem, and I think it’s going to be hard for him to stick around for too long if all his songs are the same. It just gets too predictable. when he releases “Invisibly Shaken” it didn’t go anywhere.

  2. Drue
    March 31, 2009 at 1:12 pm

    What’s wrong with being upbeat? What’s wrong with songs having a positive outlook? I bought the CD today and I think it’s awesome. The upbeat tone of the CD is what makes me like it, it makes you feel good. It’s the kind of CD you pop in when you need some cheering up or when you need a positive outlook. I don’t see any problem with a CD having a positive outlook or being upbeat. I mean, aren’t you people the same ones who get annoyed when people say Country music is all ballads and beer drinking songs? Then when a CD comes out that ISN’T all ballads and beer drinking songs, you have a problem with it. Wow, real nice hypocrisy.

  3. Jim Malec
    March 31, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    I mean, aren’t you people the same ones who get annoyed when people say Country music is all ballads and beer drinking songs?

    No. That’s not us.

  4. Rick
    March 31, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    I only hear Rodney’s music when he performs live on the Opry and I always find his vocals absolutely cringe worthy. I rate Rodney and his music about as compelling as Craig Morgan, for whatever that’s worth…..

  5. Craig R.
    March 31, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    I think that one of the reasons Rodney Atkins stays in his happy place is due to the fact that his voice lacks any real depth or emotion. That is one of the reasons ” Invisibly Shaken” failed. When he tries to be serious he comes across as trying too hard. He wants so much to be liked, one of the guys, that he comes across as shallow and a little dim.

    And although I love my country like anyone else, I find the lyrics to “It’s America” so shallow that they border on being disrespectful. It is a list song without details. Where is the next “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning” which said more about the core ideals of being an American than any song I have heard since Alan Jackson first sang it on the CMA Awards.

  6. Cory
    April 1, 2009 at 12:44 am

    Gotta say that I agree with the poster re: Rodney’s vocals on Invisibly Shaken being the reason it failed. Without question, it was the weakest song, vocally, on the last disc, and it might have something to do with the fact that it’s the only song he actually tried to SING on. TO be blunt, RA can’t actually sing, and that’s why he goes for the uptempo feel-good songs. It is also why he will have a VERY short career.

  7. Bobby P.
    April 1, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Gah, there’s another Bobby here now. I’ll have to use my last initial.

  8. Drue
    April 1, 2009 at 11:55 am

    I didn’t mean that the way it sounded Jim, I was just a little frustrated. I’m just saying that a lot of times it seems to me like you guys can’t be pleased when it comes to music.

  9. Mike Parker
    April 1, 2009 at 3:20 pm

    This surely was a shiny happy album… and talk about your endless lists. Every other song (actually probably more than that) is or contains a list. It’s like they just looked up “Country” in every imaginable thesaurus and made them rhyme. And C’mon- track four is “Best Things” and track seven “Simple Things.” These songs are even named like lists.

    I enjoyed a couple songs- more because they were silly and cute than they were good: “Friends with Tractors” because, I have friends with tractors, and “15 minutes,” just because.

    I had some hopes for this, since I’ve met Rodney and he seems like a good guy- but this is an album for people who want to live in a fantasy world, not for people who want insight about the real one.

  10. Mayor Jobob
    April 2, 2009 at 5:07 am

    Yah, I bet we would all LOVE to hear songs about sickly rejected orphan children. That would just make everything better.

  11. Mike Parker
    April 2, 2009 at 12:29 pm

    @Jobob- now there’s a concept for a good Rodney Atkins song. It’s not that his songs shouldn’t have hope and happiness in their make because they absolutely should. Like it or not, hope and happy endings are staples of contemporary top 40 country music.

    The problem with “It’s America” is that most of the songs have no conflict, and thus no conflict resolution. In the instances that there is a conflict, it comes off as contrived (see “Got it Good” and “When It’s My Time”).

    There are some decent songs in the mix, but the whole album would have been better with a few darker numbers.

  12. Cmaples
    April 12, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    I think this is a good sequal to If you goin through hell. I hate when a c.d is filled with slow boring love songs and i love his upbeat songs. I know he isnt the best vocalist but he exceeded my expectations with this c.d. and i cant wait for his next one !!!! Go RODNEY

  13. Cmaples
    April 12, 2009 at 2:56 pm

    oh and also i think a little optimism is what our country needs in the hard economic times

  14. Megan
    April 20, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Rodney Atkins is a clone of Tim McGraw, except he can play a musical instrument. No thanks.

  15. Marilyn Brown
    May 5, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    I am from Greensburg, KS a little town that was was blown away from a tornado on 5-4-07. All I can say is thank GOD we live in America. That night when we crawled out of our houses we had neighbors from both Haviland and Mullinvlle, KS at our sides to help us. Then as that night turned into day we had more neighbors from KS helping. Now rebuilding we have had neighbors from all around the USA and Canada to help. We would not have made it if no one had came to help.
    I like Rodney’s song please keep singing they way you do!!! Thank you America for helping us in a little town in Kansas.

    Thanks again
    Marilyn Brown

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