If You're Going Through Hell

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Sometimes you can judge an album by its cover. Rodney Atkins’ 2003 debut, Honesty, featured a sepia-toned portrait of the singer with his shirt brashly unbuttoned and a black cowboy hat obscuring his eyes in the fashion of the vocalist to whom he’s most often compared, Tim McGraw. For this sophomore effort, Rodney is pictured in a simple, straight-on head shot, wearing a white T-shirt and a ball cap. No glamour, no mystery—just Rodney.

As the packaging suggests, If You’re Going Through Hell is much more straightforward and down-home than its predecessor. While Honesty juggled sounds and attitudes, seemingly casting about (albeit entertainingly) for an identity, on the mostly self-penned Hell Rodney sounds like a man who knows just who he is: a country boy from rural East Tennessee (“These Are My People,” “About the South,” “A Man on a Tractor”), a father (“Watching You,” “Cleaning This Gun [Come on in Boy]”) and a guy who’s learned a few tough lessons about life (“Invisibly Shaken,” “Wasted Whiskey” and the chart-topping title cut). It’s a confident, coherent step forward for one Hell of a promising newcomer.

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