Rodney Atkins may sing about wanting "to take the long way home" in his latest single, "Take a Back Road," but the tune itself opted for taking the fast track. Marking his sixth No. 1 single, the song sped up the Billboard chart before the music video could even be released.
As soon as he heard the demo of the song written by Rhett Akins and Luke Laird, Atkins couldn't stop thinking about it.
"And the more I worked on it, the more I loved it," he said. "I didn't know what the reaction would be. I knew how the song affected me."
During a visit to CMT, he noted, "Songs that have worked for me before were the ones that stick with you. They stay with you. There's more to the songs than you realize. They take you somewhere else. They just really affect you."
He soon realized the tune had a similar effect on others.
"First, I played it for my little boy taking him to baseball practice," Atkins said. "I saw the look on his face -- the way he smiled. Anytime I played it for somebody, it was pretty quick that you'd get a reaction."
While the response was positive for the song, he was caught off guard by just how quickly it climbed the charts.
"I'm still knocked out and humbled," he admitted. "I was sort of building plans around having a normal 30-to-40 week single. You just count your blessings and thank the good Lord. That's divine intervention."
Serving as the first single from his fourth album of the same name, "Take a Back Road" may be interpreted as a song about escapism, but to Atkins, it's quite the opposite.
"It's actually about just being you," he said. "Just coming down to earth, not escaping you. The song is not about focusing on getting away from something. It's about going to something -- going to a place where you can be yourself."
It's easy to feel his genuine connection to the material he chose for the album.
"Some of these songs take me back to when I was a kid and listening to country music and what some of those songs did to me," he said. "They don't just kind of hit you or touch your soul. They almost scratch you a little bit."
Growing up, Atkins wished for the chance to have a positive impact on others -- a dream he's achieved through his music.
"The prayer I pray before I play every night is to touch folks' lives," he said, insisting that artists should "stay true to what you're passionate about."
With tracks focusing on relationships, family and life's simple pleasures, the singer describes his 13-track CD as "edgier" than his past releases. As he's done with previous projects, though, he excels at being himself while remaining easily relatable.
"She'd Rather Fight" finds a man in hot water after his fishing trip takes longer than expected. "Looks like tonight I'm out of luck/She'd rather fight than you know what" is a quick lyrical summary of the amusing single.
"We've all lived that," he said with a grin.
While Atkins characterizes previous hits "These Are My People" and "It's America" as love songs, this was his first time recording romantic love songs. And he focuses on the reality of relationships as opposed to "the idea of what it could be like."
With "She's a Girl," he sings about the allure women have over men, and "Cabin in the Woods" focuses on a couple's plans for a realistic yet romantic getaway.
"You find out that love is not convenient," he said. "You have to make time for it."
Helpful life advice abounds in "Tips" and "The Corner." "Family" is a humorous track serving as a gentle reminder that everybody has crazy relatives, but we love them just the same. "Just Wanna Rock 'n Roll" is a feel-good anthem that's perfect for letting loose and escaping everyday stresses.
"Growing Up Like That" is about feeling fortunate for the little things in life. At the conclusion of that track, Atkins can be heard saying, "You really don't care about being a star/You just do it 'cause you love it and you love it 'cause you do it."
The line serves as a perfect summary for the singer's humble outlook, not only on Take a Back Road but his entire career.
"This album is about how I started my music -- because I just loved it," he said. "That's why we all start playing music or doing whatever we do. It's because you just love doing it. You get caught up in that moment, being present right there.
"If you're not feeling that feeling every time you're playing, then you're probably not doing the right thing. That's the truth about really doing something that you love."