Certain songs on Trace Adkins’ new album, Something’s Going On, set to release Friday (March 31), might sound as though the singer is intent on adding more free time to his schedule, but the versatile performer is still going full-throttle with a new label home, album, tour, and upcoming movies in the works.
The album marks Adkins’ first album for BBR Music Group imprint Wheelhouse Records, working with “song guy” and BBR founder Benny Brown.
“You go into his office and there’s like several two-foot tall stacks of CDs on his desk,” says Adkins. “He’s old school. He still listens to everything on disc. He loves the music and he loves his artists. I remember he would say—right in front of managers, too—he would say, ‘I’d rather talk to artists. I don’t like to talk to managers.’”
Working with Brown meant immersing himself in new music. Adkins ended up recording nearly 20 songs for the album, before paring the tracks down to the final 12 songs.
“I’d go in his office about 1 p.m., and he’d have lunch there for us. We’d eat and listen to music. I wouldn’t get out of there until 5 p.m. We’d listen to songs for four hours.”
The Louisiana native also found encouragement to step outside his comfort zone.
“There were a couple of things that [Benny] would pitch me and I would go, ‘I just don’t hear my voice on that song,’ and he goes, ‘Well, that’s the interesting thing about it, hearing your voice on this song.’ Then when we got in the studio, he said, ‘Let’s try it, it’ll be fun.’ Those ended up being some of my favorite tracks.”
Adkins’ first single from the project, “Jesus and Jones,” contained the rowdy yet reverent blend of music that Adkins has become known for. Adkins’ current single, “Watered Down,” sets a different pace, and acknowledges a need to enjoy life at a slower speed.
“It was right in my wheelhouse,” says Adkins. “That’s where I am right now in my life. It reflects where I’m at, what I feel. That one was a no-brainer.”
Adkins called on his longtime engineer Mickey Jack Cones to helm the album as producer. Cones served as producer on Adkins’ 2013 album Love Will…, and as associate producer on Adkins’ Proud To Be Here and Cowboy’s Back In Town projects.
“He’s an incredible engineer. I’ve always really admired Mickey because he’s not just an engineer or producer. He’s a musician. He’s a singer. It’s fun doing vocals with him because he has good ideas and input on melodies and phrasing.”
A theme of slowing down to enjoy a more leisurely pace pops up elsewhere on the album, such as “Hang,” and “Whippoorwills and Freight Trains.”
“There were songs on this record that I remember being in the vocal booth singing them, and I just had to stop,” Adkins says. “I told Mickey, ‘You’re just going to have to give me a few minutes,’ and I kind of regained my composure because they just tore me up. It’s cool that songs still do that to me. Every now and then you find yourself in an emotional frame of mind or a place in your life when a song comes along and hits you right between the eyes.”
Another sterling moment comes with the somber “Still A Soldier,” which addresses the emotional battles with post-traumatic stress disorder many soldiers wage after they return home following months and years of military service.
“PTSD is a real problem and this song addresses it in a conversational kind of way,” says Adkins, who will embark on his 12th USO Tour this year.
Album tracks such as these provide a glimpse beyond Trace Adkins the entertainer, touching on subjects and life experiences that resonate with Adkins the individual.
“I’ve told people over the years, you follow my maturation or lack thereof by listening to the album cuts. The label’s always going to want to pick those three, four or five songs they think have commercial potential, then you are pretty much given free reign, at least I am, to put whatever I want on the rest of the record. ‘Watered Down’ was one of those songs, but it ended up being a single, so it’s a win-win for me.”
Outside of the recording studio, Adkins worked on a couple of movies last year, most notably on the faith-based film I Can Only Imagine, inspired by the 2001 hit from Christian group MercyMe. The film is tentatively set to release in 2018.
In the film, Adkins will portray MercyMe manager Scott Brickell (who also serves as executive producer on the film), and appears alongside Dennis Quaid and Cloris Leachman.
“Having met Scott Brickell, he’s a rough around the edges kind of guy too,” Adkins says. “He was on set a lot of days. I’ve never experienced anything like that before, portraying somebody while he was actually there. I would go to him and ask, ‘Man, how rough were you on him in this scene? Was I a little too rough with him? How’d that go down?’
“So the director really deferred to him on some of those things because they wanted it to be as accurate as it could be. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy. He’s not a rough character but he’s a big, imposing guy and pretty strong-willed. He’s also kind, though. It was fun to do.”
Something’s Going On marks Adkins’ 13th album (if you include his Celtic-inspired Christmas album, The King’s Gift, released in 2013). Adkins hopes to explore other musical genres at some point.
“I‘ve always wanted to do a crooner record. I can sing that stuff and I like that stuff. I’d like to do a record of those standards and try to make them my own. But that’s down the road. That’s always something I’ve always thought of doing, just like the Christmas record I did. It took me years to get around to doing it.”
In 2004, Adkins contributed a rendition of “Victory In Jesus” to Amazing Grace 3: A Country Tribute To Gospel. He says a gospel album could be in the works at some point.
“A lot of country artists, once they get into the sunset of their careers, they seem to turn out a gospel album because they are trying to get into heaven, so I’ll probably do that too,” he quips.
For now, one thing Adkins is certain of is simply that there will be a next album.
“I have to make another record because this is No. 13 and I’m not stopping on No. 13.”
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