WMZQ Winter Fest featuring Rodney Atkins

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Editorial Review

Album review: "Take the Back Road"

As one of country music's biggest stars, Rodney Atkins embodies the genre's contradictions. His latest album, "Take the Back Road," opens with a typical country-radio complaint about a traffic jam near a big city before the singer declares that he'd rather be driving down a two-lane county road. But Atkins's chest-thumping vocals make this safe-as-milk sentiment sound as if he's taking a revolutionary stand.

The contradictions multiply in the same song, when Atkins mentions how his mood lifts when a 1982 George Strait song comes on the radio. But Atkins's own song sounds nothing like Strait's fiddle-fueled "Fool Hearted Memory." The slamming drums and pumped-up guitar riffs have far more in common with such 1982 hair bands as Journey and REO Speedwagon.

Most of "Take the Road Back" follows the same paradoxical template. Completely uncontroversial aphorisms about loving your aunt, making up with your wife, standing up for your children and spending a weekend in the woods are presented as if they were bold rallying cries in the face of stiff opposition. Such odes to rural touchstones as "Farmer's Daughter" or "Growing Up Like That" are blasted out through nonrural, rock-and-roll amplifiers.

--Geoffrey Himes, Dec. 9, 2011