After a four-year hiatus from the charts, Rodney Atkins has returned with his exuberant “Caught Up in the Country.” The Knoxville, Tenn. native, who turns 50 today (March 28), first charted in 1997 with “In a Heartbeat.”
Back then, he wore cowboy hats in his music videos. He would not switch to the rolled bill baseball cap that has become his trademark until 2006, when he scored his first No. 1 single with “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows).”
That song would ignite a string of three more consecutive No. 1s — “Watching You,” “These Are My People” and “Cleaning This Gun (Come on in Boy).” In 2006, the Academy of Country Music saluted Atkins with its top new male vocalist trophy.
Two more No. 1s awaited Atkins — “It’s America” (2008) and “Take a Back Road” in 2011. Family figures prominently in some of his music videos. In fact, his son Elijah was the focal point of “Watching You.” After the end of his first marriage, Atkins remarried in 2013 to singer-songwriter Rose Falcon.
With “Caught Up in the Country,” which features the Fisk Jubilee Singers, Atkins once again reaches for the industry prominence he once enjoyed.
Here are eight music videos that open doors to Atkins’ evolution as an artist:
“If You’re Going Through Hell (Before the Devil Even Knows)” (2006, Eric Welch)
Here we have the Rodney Atkins of his prime — loose-limbed, good-humored, energetic — and now wearing that distinctive cap. Atkins’ journey through hell begins with his vehicle breaking down. Then comes the real deluge of brimstone: a couple he’s flagged down speeds away with his guitar. After that, he catches a series of disastrous rides, including being stuck in the back of a truck with a goat, in the back seat of a car with feuding kids and screaming parents and later squeezed into a car with a mariachi band. It’s all good fun that’s aided considerably by the jaunty jangling of the banjo on the soundtrack.
“Watching You” (2006, Eric Welch)
Whether it’s spitting invectives at a sudden traffic stop or saying prayers at bedtime, the little boy (Elijah) in the video is intent on being a carbon copy of his dad. “I’ve been watching you/Dad ain’t that cool?” And, yes, he’s wearing a baseball cap, too.
“These Are My People” (2007, Eric Welch)
Standing on an outdoor stage in the middle of a crowd, Atkins assures them in the song that they are all fine folks and that he’s proud to be one of them. As he recites the working class joys of partying hard, he concedes, “It ain’t always pretty, but it’s real.” He looks like he knows what he’s singing about.
“Invisibly Shaken” (2008, Eric Welch)
This is a stark departure from Atkins’ usual hang-loose persona. It starts with him sitting at a piano, tapping out the song’s plaintive melody and lamenting that his romantic breakup has left him “invisibly shaken.” Then he’s walking through a forest at night as a ghostly orchestra gathers around him. His acting is rather too broad, and his jeans and cap costume seems a little ridiculous in a song so joyless and formal.
“It’s America” (2009 Eric Welch)
Seeing kids selling lemonade launches Atkins into this patriotic panegyric. His is a vision of small-town America: “It’s a high school prom / It’s a Springsteen song / It’s a ride in a Chevrolet” and if “We don’t always get it all right / There’s no place else [he’d] rather build [his] life.” Enthusiasm triumphs over all.
“Farmer’s Daughter” (2010, Chris Hicky)
Has there ever been a creature more tantalizing or more the object of risqué jokes than the farmer’s daughter. Well, she’s still at work here, tempting the hired hand. Atkins flashes back to his adolescent plowing and then primly brings the narrative forward to where the farmer’s daughter has become the farmer’s wife.
“Take a Back Road” (2011, Andy Tennant)
Atkins gives vent to what a lot of Nashville drivers are thinking these days as they inch homeward on six-lane highways. Head for the exit, then head for the hills with George Strait playing on the radio. Yeah, right!
“Caught Up in the Country” (2019, Ryan Hamblin)
This video is visually and thematically a hybrid of “It’s America” and “Take a Back Road.” It’s saturated with scenes of rural splendor. There’s also lots of Atkins motorcycle riding and lots of flag-waving. But it basically boils down to, “Ain’t this country pretty!” And it sure is.