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RODNEY ATKINS

 

Rodney Atkins' second album, If You're Going through Hell, captures every aspect of Rodney's life, not only as a great singer but as a man who is lucky enough to be living his dream. "Every song I sing is about the world as I know it. Every word is real. I'm not going to sing it if it isn't." If country music is about being real, then this album could not get any more country. It takes just a few seconds of the opening track, "These Are My People," to carry us into Rodney's past, when he "grew up down by the railroad tracks, shooting BBs at old beer cans, choking on a smoke from a Lucky Strike that someone lifted off his old man." What matters most lies outside of town, down a blacktop road that leads to a "Dead End" sign and then keeps going as a narrow tar-and-chip path that winds through woods and over hills to the house that he and his family found a few years ago. The place where he feels comfortable in a T-shirt bearing a John Deere logo; his jeans and work boots looking like they've been lived in for a while. He and Tammy Jo settled here because it reminds them of where they grew up, back in East Tennessee. "We have a four-year-old son and we want to raise him like we were raised," Rodney says. "I guess some people think the best thing would be to put a kid in the middle of a booming city. For us, right or wrong, it made more sense to be out on a ridge, where you can see wild turkey and deer in the front yard every morning and you go to sleep at night with the 'redneck lullaby,' as my wife calls it - tree frogs and crickets. I wouldn't trade that for anything. "When we were doing the last album, I got sent out to California to do a photo shoot," he remembers. "Well, the funny thing is, when you're standing in front of a brick wall, I don't see how you can tell whether that wall is in Tennessee or California or Alaska or wherever. But you stand there anyway, and you put on leather pants and slick clothes because that's just what you do. You're thinking, 'Don't have that look on your face - you're cool, you're tough.' And you wind up with a bunch of pictures where you're not smiling and you don't look like yourself. Even my mom said, 'These are nice pictures, but they're not you.'" It can be heard in the music too. Rodney had delivered a world-class release with Honesty back in 2003, but even with that he was still searching for something elusive, something that would bring his music home to his heart and his memory and his love for the people and the values that guide his life. That's what makes If You're Going Through Hell different. The voice is still there, deep and strong, a little rough to the touch, like a fence in a field, but also tender and simmering with quiet feeling. It's a voice that's lived a bit since it was last heard. According to Rodney, that's because his rules have changed. "We found plenty of great songs for my last album but not all of them matched me," he says. "Now we're thinking differently. When I heard 'If You're Going Through Hell,' for example, I loved it. It makes a powerful statement. But then my manager picked up the picture from our new photo shoot, which has me dressed pretty much like I am now, and said, 'Okay, would this guy sing this song?' That was a big question because it's not about some artist I might admire or think that I might someday become. It's not about whether they would sing it, it's about whether I would sing it." Another part of the magic of Rodney's new album is that he didn't come into Nashville to record it. As if to tighten the ties that bind this music to his world, he built a simple studio at home, where he laid down all of his vocals between doing chores and spending time with his family. "This could be the most inexpensive record Curb has ever done," he says, "because there was no engineer riding me and no studio clock ticking away. I'd just go in whenever I felt like singing, leave for a while to take my son Elijah down to fish at the river, and maybe finish after putting him to bed that night at nine. I could look out through a window toward our backyard and the woods. Sometimes I'd see herds of deer pass while I'm at work. Just yesterday I was in there and I saw an eight-point buck standing outside." Every word Rodney speaks because he understands that country music, the way it ought to be played, isn't just about life - it is life. And, as If You're Going Through Hell has confirmed, life can come alive when the singer is in tune with the song