"So many close calls dodging wrecking balls/ there ain't a pitfall I didn't fall through/ girl there's no telling how I ever made it out/ and lived to talk about the reckless things I used to do/ oh to tell the truth." - Happy To Be Here - Jason Matthews-Jim McCormick-Mike Mobley.

Art imitated life frequently for thrice wed Louisiana singing actor Trace Adkins.

His second wife shot him in the heart and lungs on the final day of their marriage.

But the father of five daughters boomeranged and harvested hay from his ruptured romances with major awards and healthy sales for his first 10 albums.

The former petroleum engineer and oilfield roughneck also earned his stripes in the publicity stakes with an obligatory DUI and a broken leg from an errant tractor.

But none of that could have worked without Adkins most lethal weapon - a booming baritone that leaves peers gasping.

Adkins may be a reformed hell raiser but he emulates Merle Haggard with his ode to mama on Sweet - the entrée of his riveting 10th disc.

Well, the woman the singer's character chooses is a stark contrast to matriarchs from days of yore with a superb culinary and cleaning CV.

"She's sweet like a Cadillac/ sweet like a stack of cold hard cash/ sweet like the diamond bling/ dangling down from her belly button ring/ she's sweet like a handful of aces/ tattoos in secret places/ mama can't you see she's sweet."

Sweet segues into the biographical Happy To Be Here.

Adkins, 47, makes the most of the baseball and pregnancy metaphors in All I Ask For Anymore.

Then he exploits another country staple - the aching love of a long distance truckie, with far-flung city checkpoints and home fires in Hauling One Thing.

He embraces all shades of romance from chance encounters with an old flame in a grocery in Better Than I Thought It'd Be and failure to escape a not so faded belle in I Can't Outrun You.

Adkins also ignites the humour of the nuptial spoof Marry For Money, replete with hillbilly humour in the video on Nu Country TV.


"I was there in the winter of '64/ when we camped in the ice at Nashville's door/ three hundred miles our trail had lead/ we barely had time to bury our dead/ when the Yankees charged and the colours fell/ Overton Hill was a living hell/ when we called retreat it was almost dark/ I died with a grape shot in my heart." - Til The Last Shot's Fired - Rob Crosby-Doug Johnson

Is there anything Adkins misses - hell, no but you need to wait for the artistic climax until you reach the eighth of 12 songs?

Til The Last Shot's Fired is one of those poignant social comment war songs where the passion for peace is daubed on a time travel tableau that reaches back through the follies of history.

The writers - singer-songwriter Rob Crosby and Doug Johnson - devote verses to the U.S. Civil war and World War 11 while Vietnam and Afghanistan share another.

This is not Hank Jr or Toby Keith urging fans to indulge in carpet-bombing of camel jockeys and religious fanatics in far-off deserts and Middle East oilfields.

Instead it resurrects mama - this time as the peace prophet.

"Let us lay down our guns/ sweet mother Mary we're so tired/ but we can't come home until the last shot's fired."

The message is driven home with strings stitching the musical cloak and West Point Cadet Glee Club providing a choral crescendo.

Yes, it's probably the pinnacle of Adkins music career but will this be a single and what a wondrous video collage if it was?


"18 Wheeler dropped me off at that city limit sign/ Sunday morning sunlight hurt my eyes/ it's a long way from where I been back to my hometown/ but there's a man in me I need to drown." - Muddy Water - Monty Criswell-Rick Huckaby

Adkins has long filled the vast void on commercial radio for soulful vocals created by the departure of Waylon & Willie, Merle Haggard, Kevin Welch, George Jones, Billy Joe Shaver, Hank Jr, Ray Wylie Hubbard and many other keepers of the flame.

Sure the good old boys and gals still ride high on Americana and satellite radio in the U.S. and small pockets of ABC and community radio here.

But it's an uneven playing field and faddists reign, even the disco dross of the recently deceased, ahead of roots music.

So what else does Adkins serve up for those of us neglected by the mainstream?

Well there's the redneck rags to riches anthem Hillbilly High and tip of lid to Jones in the wry wordplay of Sometimes A Man Takes A Drink, penned by Murder On Music co-writer Larry Cordle and Amanda Martin.

It's a variation on the old theme of creative geniuses drowning in the battle with the bottle where the receptacle reigns long before closing time.

So it's no surprise the fitting finale is the gospel-geared anthem Muddy Water where a sinner is saved - the vibrant video has famed actor Stephen Baldwin cast as the weary traveller.

It's a stark contrast to Adkins satanic role in horror film Trailer Park Of Terror.

So that's the plot - how does it sound?

Well Adkins's haunting vocals, even on his novelty songs, have long filled the vast vacuum.

And tasteful touches of banjo, pedal steel, fiddle and dobro by bluegrass session serfs with background vocals by Sonya and Bert Isaacs and Wes Hightower, ensure Adkins drives the narrative train with no risk of a drum distraction derailment.

It's chart candy but it sates a diverse palate.

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