CD REVIEW - 2010


"I'm still hauling hay and feeding the hogs/and that summer sun has me sweating like a dog/ so I cool off in the creek/ and she brings me out a glass of sweet ice tea/ I'm on the tractor and she's on my mind/ and I can't wait till its quitting time/ and just when I think it can't get no hotter/ I come home to the farmer's daughter." - The Farmer's Daughter - Marv Green-Rhett Atkins-Ben Hayslip.

Tractors have long been vibrant vehicles driving country songs into the psyche and up the charts.

It worked for acts diverse as Canadian troubadour Fred Eaglesmith, latter day bluegrass artist Joe Diffie and Tennessee superstar Kenny Chesney.

Fellow Tennessean Rodney Atkins parked A Man On A Tractor on third album If You're Going Through Hell.

Next Atkins reprised the paddock posse on Friends With Tractors on his fourth album It's America.

But that wasn't enough.

Another tractor tyro prompted re-release of the big selling album - with Farmer's Daughter as the bonus track.

The tale of a hired hand falling in love with his boss's daughter was the perfect fodder for the video sales tool.

And, of course, art imitating life.

Atkins, an orphan with a degree in psychology, chose his real life wife Tammy Jo to play the object of his love who becomes his wife.

It's smart marketing for the singer who filmed the video near Civil War town Franklin, south of Nashville.


"Now his idea of heaven/is home sweet home east Tennessee/but for a girl like you he would pull up roots/and move down the road a piece/ he'll always take his own sweet time/if you give him a choice, yeah/you can always tell a country boy." - Tell A Country Boy - Jon Henderson-Neal Coty.

Marketing imagery is maximised to separate rural rooted country singers like Atkins from urban cowboys and cowgirls.

Atkins only wrote three songs on this disc but others were tailored for the singer who has long resisted pressures to move to Nashville.

Rodney and Tammy Jo live on a farm 130 miles east of Music City so it's no surprise Tell A Country Boy was chosen as the entrée song.

The twin fiddles of Larry Franklin and Jonathan Yudkin kick off a tune augmented by Mike Johnson's pedal steel.

Atkins even uses road guitarist Duane Sciacqua - husband of Oklahoma born stone country singer Becky Hobbs - in the studio.

His character has no need of city tanning salons - his nape is blessed by a natural red with no manufactured rouge.

It segues into Atkins originals Chasin' Girls, inspired by his son and step- daughters - and self-deprecatory celebration of his wife, life and maker in Got It Good.

Atkins, 41, exploits enjoyment of rural hedonism in the Best Things and the rollicking 15 Minutes.

And then it's back to bucking the star system in his collaboration with hit writers Dave Berg and Rivers Rutherford on Simple Things.

The song, inspired by creek bank paternal bonding, was also therapy for a singer as he escaped the industry on breaks from the rigors of the road.

Yes, he sings of those homegrown staples - dogs, hummingbirds, babies, family, friends, fishing, oak trees and tyre-swings.

Not what you find in rap, dance or techno.


"I sat beside a man from Hollywood, California on a plane/ he said he had rich and famous friends, he liked dropping names/ I said 'Howdy do, that's good for you, I dig a lot of those actors/but son you ain't got a thing on me, see I got friends with tractors." - Friends With Tractors - Rhett Atkins-Dallas Davidson-Ben Hayslip.

Atkins and co-producer Ted Hewitt again exploit the rural-urban gulf in the fiddle driven Friends With Tractors.

He accentuates the sharp contrast between big city power brokers bravado and rural camaraderie.

Atkins name checks tractor brands in a sprawling style akin to the product placement of those Hollyweird directors.

When he sinks his Justins into elite restaurants it resonates way beyond his neck of the backwoods.

"I been to fancy five star restaurants/ and I left there barely fed/ they charged me for the water/the butter and the bread/that gourmet meal looked more to me/like fish bait on a cracker/but I'll stay fat and happy 'cause I got friends with tractors."

It's a theme he returns to in the soft-core patriotism of Angelo Petraglia-Brett James title track.

He sets the mood with "it's a high school prom/it's a Springsteen song/it's a ride in a Chevrolet/it's a man on the moon and fireflies in June."

Then there's the punchline aimed at Samaritan sympathisers.

"Later on when I got home/ I flipped the TV on/ I saw a little town that some big Twister tore apart/ people came from miles around/ just to help their neighbours out/ and I was thinkin' to my self/ I'm so glad that I live in America."

Cynics might perceive this altruism an idealistic oasis in the harsh reality of Atkins' mega-materialistic nation and other western societies.

And, of course, vast contrast to reality rooted rural tunes mined by Merle Haggard, Billy Joe Shaver, David Allan Coe, Johnny Paycheck, Todd Snider, Waylon and Willie and Ray Wylie Hubbard.

But Atkins is shooting for a younger demographic seeking escape from poverty and hardship.

Perhaps that's why he closes with twin positive paeans - regret free life celebration Rockin Of The Cradle and forgiveness fuelled fable When It's My Time.

This feel good disc ends with the power of healing fishing finale - The River Just Knows.

A battle scarred military veteran lands a rainbow trout after a long fight.

"He held the fish down in the water/and he coaxed it back to life/ he said 'I'll help you get your wind back/ 'cause you helped me get mine'/and all I could think to say was 'welcome home.'"

And maybe to Hollywood.

CD REVIEW - 2006


"I had very intention of getting hammered here tonight/ gave my truck keys to the bar keep/I said don't let me drive tonight/ it's wasted whiskey, trying to drink you off my mind." - Wasted Whiskey - Rodney Atkins-Ted Hewitt-Danny Simpson.

Rodney Atkins has fertile fuel for heartbreak songs.

Two families adopted him and returned him to a Tennessee orphanage - because he had a lung infection.

But the third family, who lost a baby to the same illness six month earlier, raised him in their home at Cumberland Gap near the Virginia-Kentucky border.

So Atkins, who majored in psychology at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville, knew how to handle rejection.

When his 1997 self titled debut album sank after just one chart entry - his original In A Heartbeat - he toiled for another five years.

In 2002 Atkins scored singles, Sing Along and My Old Man before big hit Honesty (Write Me a List) in 2003 - title track of his second album.

Then his third album produced two huge hits If You're Going Through Hell (Before The Devil Even Knows) and Watching You that topped U.S. charts for five weeks and lured comedians.

Atkins was backstage at the Jay Leno Tonight show when he overheard comedian Bill Maher tell the host "the only use I have for country music is to make fun of it."

Sounds familiar - for local artists who grin and bear it when forced to use TV as a surrogate radio here.

Atkins reported Maher, unaware he heard his remarks, "came up and shook my hand after the show and said, 'I really enjoyed that.' It was kind of funny, because he got out of there as quick as he could."

Atkins, it would appear, had the last laugh - he co-produced his third disc If You're Going Through Hell that sold two million plus.


"Yeah, If you're going through hell/ keep on moving, face that fire/ walk right through it/ you might get out/ before the devil even knows you're there/ yeah, you might get out/ before the devil even knows you're there." - If You're Going Through Hell - Sam Tate-Annie Tate-Dave Berg.

And, it's a nice little earner for Atkins who co-wrote six tunes including About The South, Angel's Hands, ruptured romance ode Invisibly Shaken and Wasted Whiskey.

But Watching You - a paternal parable splinter from late Harry Chapin's Cat's In The Cradle - impacts most for Atkins.

Atkins wrote it about five-year-old son, Elijah - the only blood relative he's ever known.

It's about a boy who learns from watching dad - but not always what his dad wants him to learn.

Atkins, then 37, wrote it after pre-school teachers told him Elijah was serenading his classmates with If You're Going Through Hell.

At least it wasn't Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy).

"One of the first times I went courtin' in high school I was met by the girl's daddy standing out beside the driveway with a .357," Atkins said.

"That's called setting the tone. This is the same man who taught me how to play guitar.

We'd sit out on their front porch and dip snuff and pick and grin."

Atkins, who lives 130 miles east of Nashville, exploits the virtues of country living in rural rooted anthems.

Good examples are Rivers Rutherford-Dave Berg entrée These Are My People and Kent Agee-Michael Lunn cut A Man On A Tractor with "let me find peace of mind on my own piece of land."

Yes, idyllic bliss - no longer hell.

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