Review: Rodney Atkins, “It’s America”

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November 20, 2008

That patriotism is such a powerful fixture in modern-day country music can largely be attributed to the events of 9-11.  In the early stages of the decade, the format issued jingoistic missives (“Courtesy of the Red, White, and Blue”), sentimental dreck (“Only in America”) and fortunately, eloquent commentary (“Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning),” all revolving around the public’s American pride in the aftermath of great tragedy. But even as time passed, country music’s artistic community continued to reaffirm their faith in God and country, using every opportunity to establish their fidelity to the most treasured of pure American traditions.

And just as the United States is now experiencing a clear identity crisis, the same tremors of change can be felt on Music Row, where the traditional sounds of yesteryear are increasingly drowned out by the bland rhythms and rhyme schemes of today’s polished musical product. Nashville’s schizoid nature has prompted an uncertainty, and ultimately, a desperation to define all that makes country music what it is while forgetting what it once was. In the past, textured interpretations of our social environment were standard operating procedure (Haggard took the temperature of the late ’60s with “Okie from Muskogee,” while Alabama’s “Song of the South” brought the Depression era into the harsh light of reality). Now, the messages are more blunt and built to prompt immediate, yet temporary response. Rodney Atkins’ release, “It’s America,” adds to the argument that country music is in danger of losing the creative direction and distinct narration that is its ultimate foundation.

Fresh off four consecutive #1 hits, Rodney Atkins aims to solidify his spot as one of the format’s most reliable talents with his new single release “It’s America.” It’s his everyman likability and convincing vocal that lift the song, but “It’s America” still suffers from being an all-encompassing anthem. He dares to define our “one nation under God” in a song of praise spouting hopeful optimism and heartland sentiment. While harmless, it furthers an incorrect notion: that emotional resonance can be attained in the space of a three-minute anthem that reads more like a weekly grocery list than a work of poetic art. The song’s chorus is a simple distillation of feel-good nostalgia and obvious imagery, with Atkins singing, “It’s a high school prom, it’s a Springsteen song, it’s a ride in a Chevrolet/It’s a man on the moon and fireflies in June and kids selling lemonade/It’s cities and farms, it’s open arms, one nation under God, it’s America.”

In turn, the verses are full of praise for the soldiers, farmers and flag-flying ordinary folks that stand as the cornerstone of the United States, but the song barely touches on the stories that make these individuals extraordinary. It merely grasps for catchphrases that are well-known to the radio audience, relying on this recognition to inspire brief moments of connection between the music and the listener.  Few consumers won’t be able to latch onto at least one of these examples, but “It’s America” is a disposable effort that fails to construct any meaning behind the music.

Grade: C+

Listen: “It’s America”

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  1. Matt B.No Gravatar says:

    Blake,

    I refrained from reviewing your review until I wrote my own but I think we basically came to the same conclusion.
    http://www.roughstock.com/blog/rodney-atkins-its-america

  2. Soul Miner's DaughterNo Gravatar says:

    Great review and ITA.
    When I heard him perform this on the CMA’s all I could think of was finding some crackers to go with this cheez. Especially with the Chevy “commercial” playing in the background.
    You’re right… it is just a bunch of catch phrases that sound like it’s being made up as it goes along.
    Besides, I hardly think of Springsteen when I think of America.

  3. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar says:

    I do like the the rapid-fire banjo part at the beginning. And he has one of the better recording voices out there right now, even if he never seems to sound good live.

    But yeah. Between this and the new Aldean single, it’s hard not to think our genre’s basically become a parody of itself. Super.

  4. CMWNo Gravatar says:

    Nice review, but Atkins is actually fresh off four consecutive #1s followed by a massive flop, “Invisibly Shaken.” And I can’t help but think that that last single’s poor chart showing has something to do with him going uptempo patriotic this time around.

  5. Blake BoldtNo Gravatar says:

    “Invisibly Shaken” made such little impact that I’d imagine few people even recognize it as a single, and I don’t think it negatively effected Atkins too much. That single was a risk, but with 4 #1′s in the bag, I feel that Curb wanted to try their luck at a ballad. To be honest, I feel the same way about Miranda’s “More Like Her.” Both songs are designed to add wrinkles to their respective images, but lack of chart success won’t deter their careers too greatly.

    Atkins is best served recording uptempo material, so I’m not surprised he’s been positioned in that way. I expect this song to be a fixture on the radio well into 2009.

  6. Lynn DouglasNo Gravatar says:

    This song sounds destined to become the background for a Chevy truck commercial.

    Ironically, on all the blogs that I read after the CMAs, this was the one song that everyone was curious about. I bet it does well at radio.

  7. Stephen H.No Gravatar says:

    Radio sucks … I was (apparently) in the minority that loved “Invisibly Shaken”, but with its complete flop I now expect three or four laundry list hits like this from his next album.

    It’s funny you mention “More Like Her” … I’d add “For You”, “The Only Promise that Remains”, and others, into the category of a dying breed — the radio ballad.

  8. Only Blake Boldt could write a country single review using the words “jingoistic” and “dreck” and “schizoid.” Well done, my friend. The word nerd in me applauds you. :)

  9. [...] More “Its America” Reviews And that is exactly why this song represents both the worst of contemporary country music and the worst of contemporary patriotism. It’s not because of bad grammar (a crime all its own), but because here syntax and meaning have both been displaced by symbolism. – The 9513 In the end the mix drowns out the lyrics and to be frank, Rodney Atkins isn’t a great technical singer and would be better suited with acoustic sounds than with this ‘branded’ image they’re presenting. – Roughstock It merely grasps for catchphrases that are well-known to the radio audience, relying on this recognition to inspire brief moments of connection between the music and the listener.  Few consumers won’t be able to latch onto at least one of these examples, but “It’s America” is a disposable effort that fails to construct any meaning behind the music. – CountryUniverse.net [...]

  10. [...] feel ignorant or negligent, because it’s clearly meant to be simplistic. Whereas Rodney Atkins’ “It’s America” promises and fails to deliver a substantial look at what defines our nation, Paisley delivers [...]

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