T Atkins
Trace Adkins


Trace Adkins has too much blue-collar in his bones to put up with a lot of star-style ego, even from himself. So the six-foot-six ex-oilfield roughneck tends to let modesty get in the way of self-promotion.

He won’t tell you that the bass end of his big baritone can drop into a bottom so deep that it is apt to shake walls…but it can. He won’t tell you he has similar command of higher vocal ranges, even a heart-fluttering falsetto…but he does. He won’t tell you he’s able to sing a whole spectrum of styles of music, from traditional country to its edgiest vestiges…but he is.

He especially won’t tell you that all these skills are manifested to the max in his new CD, Chrome, but they are. Check it out. Chrome shines.

What it does is strike a perfect balance between fun and feeling. Its title song is that rarest of things, an irresistible ditty: a piece of music that is unashamedly less substance than show and at the same time compelling. On the other hand, the collection’s deeply moving first single, “I’m Tryin’” is a gritty and probing celebration of strength of character, the kind required to keep going when life is treating you like its worst enemy.

Adkins describes the wrenching seriousness of “I’m Tryin’” as “kind of the story of my life.” Of the title tune, by contrast, he warns listeners: “Don’t look for the deeper meaning, because there’s not one--it’s just fun.”

To varying degrees on the different tracks, the whole CD is that way, alternating between enjoyment and emotions that run far deeper.

The glamorous adventuress in “Chrome” who wants to drive the truck, the fast car and the motorcycle, rather than just ride them, counterpoints the weary indomitability of the hardworking ex-husband trying to stay current on his child-support in “I’m Tryin’.” The happy and one-dimensional hero of the loping traditional country “And There Was You” contrasts dramatically with the pensive and lonely protagonist of the vocally demanding “Help Me Understand.” The persuasive plea in “Come Home” is humorously parodied in the highly irreverent “I’m Goin’ Back,” and the thoroughly grateful “Thankful Man” is the opposite number of the self-deprecating penitent in “I’m Payin’ For It Now.” “Scream” lends a powerful sexual undertone to the theme of releasing tension, while “Give Me You” voices a contentment just as profound.

Lyrically and musically, this is a tour de force. Adkins’ most ambitious project ever, it is sung with self-assured dash and a craftsmanship both careful and bold. “Chrome,” for instance, marks his first foray into a delivery that at times almost resembles rap; it is, as the singer himself notes, the first time he has ever talked--rather than sung--his way through parts of a song. “Help Me Understand” and “Love Me Like There’s No Tomorrow” are both almost-pop power ballads, a direction into which he hadn’t previously ventured. “Once Upon A Fool Ago” employs Celtic sounds he suggested putting into on the track himself. “Come Home” features ways he devised to make each chorus vocally different, and he himself changed a couple of the original lines in “I’m Goin’ Back” to keep its lyrics from being totally politically incorrect. “I’m Payin’ For It Now” he co-wrote.

“The first time people listen to this album I think they’re gonna go, ‘Wow!’” Adkins says. “It’s gonna be one song that’s really laid back and beautiful and then the next song is gonna scare ’em. That’s kind of how this album is. There are some really different kinds of things. There are singing styles on here that people haven’t heard me do before. “It’s probably…well, not probably: it is…the most diverse album I’ve ever made.”

He did it with the aid of two producers who themselves are very different--longtime Adkins buddy Trey Bruce, son of country notable Ed Bruce, who handled the bulk of both his previous album and this one, and Dann Huff, who recently has worked with such other names as Faith Hill and Lonestar--and for the first time in his career Adkins took six months off to focus totally on recording. He approached this project, his fourth for Capitol, with a little of the sort of steadfast doggedness exhibited by the hero of “I’m Tryin’.” It emerges from the industrial-strength attitude of the singer himself.

After a start that saw him register a string of hits early on--“Rest Of Mine,” “[This Ain’t] No Thinkin’ Thing,” “I Left Something Turned On At Home,” “Every Light In The House Is On,” “Lonely Won’t Leave Me Alone,” etc.--as well as win the Academy of Country Music’s New Male Vocalist title and be nominated for the Country Music Association’s Horizon Award, he had to weather changes of administration at the record company and the lapses in momentum that such reconfigurations necessarily entail.

Happily, the most recent change reunited Trace with old friends. Capitol President Mike Dungan and marketing chief Fletcher Foster were among the people who, when they were at Arista, first discovered Adkins and offered to develop his career.

“It’s cool, you know,” the singer says. “That feeling over there at Arista was like a big family, and when you became part of that family, they’d fight for you. So it’s really cool to work with them again.”

Not that Adkins was a stranger to adversity. Much of the life of this son of a Springhill, La., papermill worker has looked like an obstacle course. A finger severed on an offshore oil rig. A shot in the heart from an ex-wife. Assorted broken bones and other physical injuries. A long apprenticeship on the honkytonk circuit.

But everything you survive makes you stronger.

“When I was singing five nights a week in beerjoints I think I just developed tungsten vocal cords,” he reflects. “I think those years of playing in clubs and not having a good monitor system and singing as loud as you possibly could, just to hear yourself, served me well.”