Rodney Atkins should have spent the morning of Christmas 2020 fully immersed in the joy and magic of the holiday. But instead, he and countless others around the country found themselves glued to the news in utter disbelief.
A bomb had gone off in his beloved Music City.
“We just stopped and held hands and prayed,” Atkins recalls to American Songwriter about the fateful morning that resulted in the bomber dead and millions of dollars in damage to Nashville’s thriving downtown area. “It was surreal. I didn’t see the buildings crumble this time, but it hit me the same as 9/11 did. It was so close to home, and for me, it felt really personal.”
Indeed, there was a heaviness in Atkins’ heart that day, a heaviness that actually had been in his heart for many months beforehand, as the pandemic and political and racial divide continued to ravage the country. But as a singer/songwriter who has long made music to soothe people in troubling times, there was also a hope in Atkins’ heart that there would be better days ahead.
“I have long believed in the power of music and how songs can have the ability to cross all the red and blue and left and right and really pull people together,” he says.
Hence, a song like “A Little Good News.”
Originally recorded by Anne Murray when Atkins was just a teen, a brand- new cover of “A Little Good News” was released by Atkins back in January, along with a heartwarming music video, just days after the Nashville bombing. But make no mistake—the Grammy winning song had long volleyed back and forth in Atkins’ head.
“This is a crazy thing, but this is the truth,” Atkins laughs. “The first time I heard this song was when my sister was competing in a Miss Teen pageant and one of the contestants sang ‘A Little Good News’ as her talent. And, I mean, it killed me. I didn’t even know who Anne Murray was at the time. All I knew is that song literally stopped me in my tracks.”
Years went by, and Atkins found his footing as a country music star via hits such as “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)” and “Take a Back Road.” However, the Anne Murray classic continued to weigh on his heart. And every member of his supporting team knew it.
Because he told…everyone.
“I kept bringing this song up but never got anywhere,” he remembers. “But then March came along, and the pandemic began, and I just knew I had to record ‘A Little Good News.’ It was as relevant now as it was in 1983. We got through those crazy times back then, and we will get through crazy times again.”
Add that to the fact that Atkins’ wife Rose Falcon wouldn’t let him quit on the song, and finally, the Tennessee native retreated to the woods to record an acoustic version of the song, only changing a few of the stirring song’s lyrics. Soon after, he released his version and the video went viral, accumulating thousands of views and hundreds of shares in its first six hours of release.
Atkins’ forever feelings about “A Little Good News” were finally validated.
“This song is an example of some absolutely incredible songwriting,” Atkins says of the tune that was originally written by Tommy Rocco, Charlie Black and Rory Bourke. “I call it ‘the economy of words,’ where the song literally doesn’t waste a single word. I look for those songs, but they are getting harder and harder to find.”
He pauses for a moment. “Songwriting has changed a little bit,” Atkins continues rather cautiously. “A lot of times, it’s the same four chords over and over. Only thing is they have changed the melody a little. I hate cliches. As professional songwriters, I have always felt like we should be creating our own cliches and finding new ways to say things.”
And that’s what Atkins is striving to do more of in 2021. Not only is he and his wife of seven years finishing up writing a 5 song EP together, but Atkins says he will soon begin recording a new solo record filled with songs he has been working on throughout the COVID-19 quarantine.
“People need music, more than ever before,” he adds.
Photo by Trevor Roberts