HE'S TRYIN'

Trace Adkins has a new baby, a hit song and new property for his country dream home ... now if he can just sell some records!

Standing on the porch of the barn he built with his own hands, Trace Adkins is in his element as he looks out over the five-acre pond that will be stocked with catfish and bluegill later in the day.

His songwriter buddies soon arrive to grill some burgers, and 3-year-old daughter Mackenzie is on hand to do a little fishin' with the daddy she's got wrapped around her finger. Her baby sister, Brianna Rhea, born Sept. 4 and not up to holding a pole just yet, is at home with Trace's wife, Rhonda.

And as if those weren't enough reasons to feel good, "I'm Tryin,' " Trace's first single from his new album, Chrome, just cracked the Top 20.

"I'm a thankful man," says Trace, borrowing the title from another tune on the album.

One big reason for his gratitude is the scenic property he bought 45 minutes south of Nashville.

"This place has been therapeutic for me more than anything," says Trace of the 62-acre site of his future home. "It's just a place to get dirty, and sweat and work.

"I need that gratification that comes from being completely worn out at the end of the day, and looking back to see accomplishment."

And there's a lot to see. Trace is doing most of the work himself, transforming the old farm into what he calls "a dream place - the place I want to die."

"It was really rough when we got it," he recalls. "Had three dilapidated barns with big silos that had to be torn down." And brush to be cleared, trees to be cut, a road to be built and lots of rock to be moved.

But it also had something on Trace's "must" list - a stream.

After some serious earth moving, that stream was transformed into the gorgeous pond, complete with a dock, island - and an underwater auto graveyard.

"I told this old guy who owns a junkyard outside of town that I wanted eight junker cars," explains Trace, who diverted the stream while he worked on the pond. "I'd go on the road and come back, and there'd be two or three lying there in the ditch. I'd put a chain on my truck and drag 'em where I wanted 'em to create a habitat for the fish.

"I put 'em within casting distance from the dock - the lazy man's way to fish," he smiles. " 'Course you gotta be careful. You could reel in an old Buick."

There's a look of satisfaction on Trace's face as he surveys the pond.

Sometimes in the music business, that feeling of accomplishment is a long time coming. But Trace has experienced more than his share, beginning with "There's A Girl In Texas," his first release and a Top 20 hit. His second single, "Every Light In The House," reached No. 3, and his next release, "(This Ain't) No Thinkin' Thing," reached the top of the charts.

His sales were pretty good, too - at first. Trace's debut album went platinum, and his follow-up was certified gold. Then his third album didn't do well, selling fewer than half as many as the one before it.

But why? "That's a huge question mark," declares Trace. "And there aren't any easy answers. I don't have any explanation for it.

"One day you're on top of the world, the next day you're not. You don't think the quality of your work has changed. In fact, I think the more comfortable I become in the studio, the better the work gets.

"Sometimes I think that people never reach that next level because that one song that could've propelled 'em to superstardom just eluded them for their entire career.

Buck Owens told me one time, 'Son, you're three minutes away from bein' a superstar.' And I thought, 'What does that mean?' Then it hit me. 'Oh. Three-minute record, dummy.' That's what he was talkin' about. That one that takes you over the hump."

Until that song comes along for Trace, he's playing mostly medium to small markets. "Seems like for the last two or three years," he explains, "I've been living like a farmer - bettin' on next year's crop. Waitin' to have a hit so that we can go back into the major markets."

"I'm Tryin' " just may be the one. Trace didn't write it, but it sounds like he could have. The lyrics talk poignantly about a divorced father's struggles in dealing with a wife who's now an "ex," kids he doesn't see often enough and the backbreaking work he does just to keep his head above water.

Trace knows firsthand about all of it, with two teenage daughters from one of two previous marriages and a résumé that includes plenty of manual labor, from offshore oil work to carpentry and pipe fitting.

But, in spite of his years of physically demanding jobs, Trace's mill-worker father never encouraged Trace to follow in his footsteps.

"I asked him to get me an application to get on at the mill with him," recalls Trace quietly, "and he could've done it and made sure I got a job. But he wouldn't. He told me I could go out there and apply if I wanted to.

"I held it against him for quite a while. But I finally understood that he didn't want me to work where he was. Because he knew I had something more in me."

Judging by the quality of Chrome, Trace's daddy knew what he was talking about. This may be the best album Trace has ever done, with great songs like the possible next single, "Give Me You," the Celtic-feeling "Once Upon A Fool Ago," the heartbreaking "Help Me Understand" and the rollicking I'm-a-country-boy-to-my-bones tune, "I'm Goin' Back."

Trace is spending time on the road this fall promoting the new album and hoping for that big, three-minute hit.

He'll also have to make time for a court hearing stemming from his July 5 stop in Nolensville, Tenn., for a speeding and open-container violation. Due to the officer's assumption on the issue of sobriety, Trace declined to take further tests and was automatically charged with driving under the influence as provided by Tennessee's implied consent statutes.

"My attorney told me that the arresting officer will get on the stand and they'll take his testimony, and that'll be all," says Trace. "Then they'll set another court date. That's really all there is to say about it."

So, for the time being, he's concentrating on promoting his single, working on his place and getting the sites ready to eventually build his dream home - and a little guest house down the hill on a bluff overlooking the pond.

"It's kind of an in-law place," explains Trace.

"And," he says with a big laugh, "it's a long-ass walk up the hill to come see me!"

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