ASHEVILLE, N.C. -- Trace Adkins had just finished singing "Arlington" when he told the crowd that some critics thought he was making a political statement with that song. But as long as the fans like it, he said, "I don't give a [expletive deleted] what the critics have to say."
So, Trace, if you're still with me, I'd just like to say you did a pretty good job at the Asheville Civic Center on Saturday night (Feb. 23). I liked your new music, and I continue to be impressed by how you're not pitchy in concert. I see a lot of country shows, and some artists constantly struggle to find the note, but you nailed it on every song.
Adkins saved a brand new song for his encore, "I'm Only Hauling One Thing." Country music hasn't had a great truck-driving song in a while, and this one will please those hard workers on the highway, but it's romantic enough to appeal to his broader fan base. I also like his new single, "You're Gonna Miss This," for which he's filming a video in Nashville this week. It was clear he enjoyed belting this one out on stage. He's been singing "Thinkin' Thing" and "Every Light in the House Is On" for a dozen years now, and you could tell the difference in his delivery between the old and the new. He also got a rise out of covering Ronnie Milsap's "Stranger in My House," which was a request from a fan at his book-signing appearance earlier in the day.
Many of his most suggestive (and successful) songs were stockpiled for the end of the night -- "Dangerous Man," "Chrome," "Rough and Ready," "Ladies Love Country Boys," "Hot Mama" and something about a badonkadonk that sounded vaguely familiar. The crowd was really, really, really getting into it, and he's obviously made a connection with the listeners who still like to party a little bit, even if they have a family at home. He's one of the few fathers out there who can get away with T&A in his videos, but the women were singing along just as loudly as the men, so he's obviously onto something.
Hopefully, Adkins doesn't kick my badonkadonk when I say this, but he does need to upgrade the visual component of the show. The graphics behind him looked a little bit like a thrown-together Power Point presentation, with floating jukeboxes, computer-enhanced images of rural landscapes and lots and lots of the Trace Adkins logo. Even a camera on stage to project him on the big screen would be an improvement. The folks in the back rows would probably appreciate that. But it bears repeating: The guy can sing, which is always more important than whiz-bang special effects and gadgetry.
Trace Adkins has been around long enough now to have the current crop of singers tell him that they grew up listening to him. I would imagine that Jason Michael Carroll, who opened the show, falls into that camp. The similarities are striking -- long-haired, deep-voiced country boys who were influenced by rock music and who both dance the same way, if you get the thrust of what I'm trying to say. Adkins generously allowed Carroll about 45 minutes, which is quite a bit of time for someone with just a handful of hits. Luckily, because Carroll paid his dues in a bar band, he was able to pull it off admirably.
A native of North Carolina, Carroll is also a strong vocalist with a successful debut album and radio hits like "Alyssa Lies," "Livin' Our Love Song" and now, "I Can Sleep When I'm Dead." One of the highlights from his live show is "Stray," a cheating song he wrote with Radney Foster. Another is his lively cover of REO Speedwagon's "Take It on the Run." He has a few things to polish -- like, don't transition into a song about child abuse by saying, "Are you ready to raise some hell with Trace Adkins tonight!" And please don't pour bottled water on yourself and then spray the first few rows. Otherwise, he's a good choice to open for a singer who may not care about anything in this story.