Review: Trace Adkins’ Fuels His Own Formula…With a Few Exceptions

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Trace Adkins/The Way I Wanna Go/Virgo
Three out of Five Stars

You’d think by now, after some dozen albums, any number of chart-topping singles, various greatest hits compilations, and ongoing appearances on screens both big and small, that Trace Adkins would have nothing left to prove. However, with a new album boasting a hefty 25 tracks, he’s clearly not ready to rest on his laurels. 

Like most mainstream contemporary country stars, Adkins doesn’t write the majority of his material. There’s a sizable stable of hired hands who are recruited to contribute to his repertoire, and as a result, the songs find a ready fit with his good ole’ boy, generally upbeat persona. There are numerous examples here—“Finding My Groove,” “Cowboy Boots and Jeans,” “It All Adds Up To Us,” “Cowboy Up,” and “Somewhere in America” all purvey an unblemished optimism that celebrates the simple sentiments that come from rekindling romance and maintaining a freewheeling spirit. It’s stoked by the embrace of blue-collar values, unabashed sentiment, and an affirmation that life is best enjoyed when folks find pleasure in everyday accomplishments—having fun on Saturday night, hanging with friends, and finding the right partner with whom to share it all.

It’s a familiar formula, and once again, one Adkins works well.

As a result, it is somewhat surprising to find him veering from his template to a certain degree. While guest appearances by Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton aren’t especially noteworthy, having Melissa Etheridge’s soaring vocals contribute to “Love Walks Through the Rain” and Keb’ Mo and Stevie Wonder offering their talents to the funk-fueled “Memory to Memphis” elevate the effort overall and suggests that Adkins is due additional accolades for giving room to such creative collaborators. It goes beyond merely bannering the extra star power, serving instead to provide genuine substance.

On the other hand, having rappers Pitbull and Snoop Dogg taking their turns on “Where the Country Girls At” and “So Do the Neighbors” respectively, comes across as more of a gimmick than a substantive set-up of any sort. Is the country crowd ready for rap? If not, some fans will likely be somewhat surprised at the need to include them for anything other than novelty.

There are other offerings here that simply reside in the songs themselves. The sturdy “Jesus Was a Hippie,” an affirmative nod to the basics of eschewing materialism, “It’s a Good Thing I Don’t Drink,” a hardback tale that brings to mind Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe”—albeit with more grit and gruffness—and the decidedly odd change of personal perspective, “If I Was a Woman,” diverge into different yet distinctive realms. 

Otherwise, The Way I Wanna Go offers all its title implies, a set of songs that reaffirm Adkins’ amiable persona and stadium-sized appeal. Given his commercial credence, who can blame him?

Photo by Kristin Barlowe

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