Back in 2007, Trace Adkins was filming the music video for his song “I Got My Game On” — which co-starred country performer and comedian Rodney Carrington — and Carrington said something that’s stuck with Adkins to this day.
“He said, ‘You and I are pretty much in the same place, I think, career-wise: Where we can make decisions on what we do next based on the answer to the question, ‘Would that be something fun to do?’” Adkins recently recounted to Country Now and other outlets.
“That’s the way I look at everything these days,” he continues. “If somebody wants me to be a part of a project, I don’t look at the money. I don’t look at the logistics. I don’t look at anybody else that’s involved. It’s just — ‘Would that be something fun to do?’ And if the answer to that question is ‘yes,’ then I do it.”
Long story short, that attitude is the mission statement behind Adkins’ newest album, The Way I Wanna Go, which arrives on Friday (Aug. 27) and celebrates the 25th anniversary of his debut album, Dreamin’ Out Loud. With a 25-song track list to mark his 25 years in the music business, Adkins put the project together out of the pure joy of doing so: Every song selection, co-write and collaboration was a labor of love, an excuse to cut up with a good friend or the fulfillment of a long-held goal.
It includes cuts like “It’s a Good Thing I Don’t Drink,” which Adkins drily says he’s been wanting to put on one of his albums “for 20 years, and nobody would let me, so I said, ‘I’m puttin’ it on this one.” It also includes a title track that Adkins says could easily serve as a motto, career mission statement or — if he never got another chance to record another album again — a fitting epitaph.
“If I never got the chance to record another song, that’d be the one I’d want to end with, because it’s everything I ever wanted to say,” he explains. “I’ve always gone the way I wanted to go. And nobody’s gonna show me the door. I’m gonna leave when I’m good and ready to. That’s what this song says, and that’s the way I feel. That’s why it’s the title cut.”
He points out that the song — which was co-written by John and TJ Osborne of the Brothers Osborne, along with Barry Dean and Troy Verges — is one he comes by honestly: It’s written from the perspective of an older man with a lot of life behind him, so much so that the Brothers Osborne wouldn’t have been able to record it on their own project.
“It’s almost too mature for those two young men. They’re not old enough to sing that song. But they know that I am, so that’s how it ended up with me,” Adkins explains. There were other reasons, too: TJ, who’s the lead singer on the Brothers Osborne’s material, has a similarly deep vocal range to Adkins’ own, making the latter singer a perfect recipient for songs originally written with TJ’s voice in mind. The Osbornes also had a hand in writing “Big,” which was on the track list of Adkins’ 2020 EP, Ain’t That Kind of Cowboy. He has a good working friendship with the brother duo, and those kinds of friendships are important to Adkins, as evidenced by the massive list of collaborations on The Way I Wanna Go.
Nowhere is Adkins’ strategy of doing what sounds like fun more apparent than in his far-flung, star-packed, diverse list of collaborators. Pitbull and Luke Bryan don’t just co-exist on the same track list, they’re on the same song (“Where the Country Girls At,” a fiddle-packed, swagger-filled sequel to “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk,” of sorts). Stevie Wonder chimes in on harmonica on “Memory to Memphis” (the R&B legend’s idea, Adkins reveals — apparently, the two artists share an attorney, who played the song for Wonder and it caught his attention.)
Meanwhile, the Blake Shelton collaboration — “If I Was a Woman” — is one Adkins describes as a “no brainer,” which he wrote expressly for the two of them to sing together. “And I can’t believe that we got a vocal track that didn’t have laughter on it, because we laughed the whole time we were doing it,” he recalls.
Like any artist, Adkins saw major stressors during the COVID-19 pandemic: Namely, he had to figure out how to keep his employees on salary even though he wasn’t making any money. “There were a lot of people that depend on me for their livelihoods, and that really hit home this past year, just that I have responsibilities and people that I am responsible to,” Adkins details.
Still, amid the pandemic, he found upsides. He got the chance to record with artists he might not have been able to had busy touring schedules been a factor. He was able to write and record, and even more importantly, he was able to do so with a rested voice. That contributed to The Way I Wanna Go being one of the albums he’s most proud of to date, he asserts.
“This is the best record I’ve ever made. My voice is stronger on this record than anything I’ve ever recorded,” Adkins notes. “We did this whole album last year. It was the first time I ever had a chance to do an album where I wasn’t coming in off the road…I was literally going in singing these songs with weeks of vocal rest. I’ve never had the opportunity to do that before, and I think it shows. It’s the best stuff I’ve ever done.”