With Caught Up in the Country, one of country music’s biggest stars is starting his next chapter… “Some of these songs were like carving a statue,” says Rodney Atkins. “You put a whole lot of stuff on there and then keep chipping away, so you only have left what you need—you figure out what’s just noise, what’s taking away, how do you make the lyrics really be heard. Sometimes you have to go way out there so you can come back.”Atkins’ fifth studio album, Caught Up in the Country, reveals an artist who is confident enough to know that making your best music can require patience and experimentation. While his storied career has reached such heights as being named the Top New Male Vocalist at the 2006 ACM awards and seeing his single “Watching You” become the Number One Song of the Decade according to Country Aircheck, it’s been more than seven years since Take a Back Road, his last record of new material. But Atkins knew that this time, he wanted to bring his songs further than he had ever gone before. “I’ve never taken it lightly,” he says, “but with some of the other albums, I got to take my time for part of the album. But then when you get that first single finished, you gotta go, and you start working at a faster pace for the second half of the album. This time, I got to take that time with every song.”The results, he believes, are the most daring collection of his career, touching on emotions and sounds which continue to expand his range—from the twangy celebration of the album’s title track (featuring the roof-raising vocals of The Fisk Jubilee Singers) to the slow-burn cover of Jason Isbell’s “Cover Me Up.” And with six Number One singles, eight Top Five singles, and over 13 million units sold, Atkins sees that his track record validates his approach.“As I was working on this album, we put out the Greatest Hits,” he says of his 2015 compilation album. “Country Aircheck amassed the most played artists of the decade, and I was the second-most-played male solo artist—but I hadn’t even released a single in five of those years. So that was really the justification for taking time to work on this record.“To see that all those songs were still relevant,” he continues, “still fit in with what was happening musically, even if they were a decade old—that was a foundation to build up from and keep going.”The songs on Caught Up in the Country date as far back as 2013, when Atkins started with “All My Friends Are Drunk” (an “anti-party party song,” he calls it). “As I worked on that, I started writing, and you sort of get an idea of what you’re looking for,” he says. “It starts defining itself, the picture you’re trying to build. So you ask yourself if you’re covering the gamut of how this whole body of work will make somebody feel. With an album, you’re building a house, not just trying to build a back porch.”That same year, Atkins married singer Rose Falcon, a relationship that determined much of the music’s direction. “She just encouraged me on so many different levels,” he says. “I really fell back in love with singing, and she was so important to that. I remember we had a meeting with the label, and I’d written a song called ‘So Good,’ and they said ‘You’ve been successful at making a song sound like a hit, but I don’t know if people really know what you’re capable of.’ Just being vulnerable—the biggest impact Rose has had is just me putting myself out there.”His new marriage was also an influence on the kind of material Atkins wanted to record. “I’d never sung a real love song,” he says. “Every love song I had done was actually about fighting or breaking up. So I knew I wanted to record a love song, but still be gritty and palpable—a love song from a guy has to have some testosterone.” In addition, Falcon’s vocals can be heard throughout the album, and features on the duets “Figure Out You (Riddle)” and “Everybody’s Got Something.”Looking to add some different elements to the sound, Atkins and longtime collaborator Ted Hewitt brought in Blake Bollinger as a co-producer, and Bollinger offered up the song “Burn Something,” which became the album’s opening track. “That fit the profile of the kind of love song I was looking for,” says Atkins. “Not just blue skies and no bills, because that’s not what love is. A song like that motivates people to be in love—to work, dig, express themselves, and be vulnerable.”Atkins started to think more about the sound of voices on his records with Take a Back Road. “We experimented with trying to capture a live background feel,” he says. “I had the singers do their parts at the same time on the same microphone, then switch sides and double their parts, and then do it again, to create a big chorus of real human voices with lots of texture. We wanted to do that on a lot of these songs, so the girls sang their big parts and then my wife came in and brought in the country.”From “Young Man,” which continues a series of songs inspired by Atkins’ eldest son as he grows up, to “My Life,” the powerful story of Falcon’s beloved grandmother, Caught Up in the Country is made up of what Atkins calls “life songs, not just ditties.” Musically, the project demonstrates similar ambition, whether sampling the sound of Atkins kicking the front door of his truck and making that into a drum track, adding Midi guitar sounds emulating strings and piano on “So Good,” or even the remix of the title song by Dutch DJ Sam Feldt, which became a surprising viral hit.“I’d get up at four in the morning and drive around back roads, listening to make sure sonically it was what I wanted,” says Atkins. “When you work on something this much, and you’re around it every day, I realized that if I get tired of working on a song, the odds are that people will get sick of listening to it.”With a toddler at home and—as dramatically revealed in the lyric video for “My Life”—another baby on the way, Rodney Atkins is energized and driven, both personally and creatively, in entirely new ways. With Caught Up in the Country, one of country music’s biggest stars is starting his next chapter.“I needed to try things, not limit myself to just sing the notes and get out of the way,” he says. “I wanted to really tell a story in the shape and the melody of these songs—there’s more diversity on this record than I’ve ever had before. And to really take time to figure out the nuances because ultimately, it’s a whole bunch of nuances that add up to make something special.”
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