Atkins brings real-life country hits to Joyland

Rodney Atkins has been riding high in the country music arena for an extraordinary three straight years. He’s accomplished this by recording catchy songs that detail working-class struggles in a more serious manner than is typically found on the airwaves these days.

After spending nearly a decade struggling in the music business, the native of Knoxville, Tenn., blew up in 2006 with the album “If You’re Going Through Hell.” The disc produced a staggering four No. 1 hits on Billboard’s Hot Country Singles and Tracks Chart: “If You’re Going Through Hell (Before The Devil Even Knows),” “Watching You,” “Cleaning This Gun (Come in Boy)” and “These Are My People.” Now the title track to Atkins’ upcoming full-length album, “It’s America,” which is scheduled to drop March 31, has also become a radio favorite.

The song has spent 17 weeks on Billboard’s country chart, holding steady at No. 9 as of press time. The banjo-driven ditty does an outstanding job of celebrating our country without relying too heavily on clichés — and thankfully never slipping into rote, saber-rattling jingoism.

Although Atkins co-writes much of his material, others penned his latest hit. “It’s America” appealed to the country star immediately.

“When I heard the song it was at a time when all we were hearing about on the news was Afghanistan, Iraq, the economy, the election and the candidates, as they often do in politics, taking shots at each other,” Atkins said in between rehearsals at a studio in Nashville.

“Everyone just seemed down about the status of the country. When I heard this song it reminded me of the simple things, the things about this country that are so great and constant: kids selling lemonade, kids running through sprinklers in the summer, neighbors helping each other during tough times. I loved the way it made me feel — the positive energy. ‘If You’re Going Through Hell’ made me feel the same way.”

The title track to Atkins’ 2006 breakthrough album is another propulsive number goosed by banjo — and big electric guitars. It’s a classic story of perseverance delivered with lived-in passion.

The singer addresses the proverbial hellhounds that occasionally give chase and advises those being hunted to just keep on moving forward because “you might get out before the devil even knows you’re there.”
Sure, you could dismiss the song as corny and simplistic. But it’s tough to deny its infectious optimism.

And that’s a priceless commodity in this period of economic woe.

“It’s an anthem that connects with people just every single night,” Atkins said. “The music I make isn’t about being perfect, it’s about being human, and figuring out how to get out of this or that. That’s why the song is so relatable to everybody. People come up to me and talk about how it carried them through the toughest times of life. That’s something.”

Catch Rodney at Joyland

When: Doors open at 7 p.m. Friday
Where: Joyland, 5520 14th St. W., Bradenton
Tickets: $30
Information: : (941) 756-6060 or