By Allison Stewart
Trace Adkins belongs to a glowering, Stetsoned, entirely male subspecies of country music stars: Hominis redneckus. An enduring breed, they are known by their tendency to wear head-to-toe black, their outspoken appreciation for the female form (posteriors being a particular favorite) and a tendency toward virtuous pronouncements about the sanctity of the flag.
For a generation of CMT fans, Toby Keith paved this road, and everybody else is merely driving on it. Even Adkins, newly signed to Keith's imprint label, is unfairly seen as a second stringer despite years of hits such as the self-explanatory "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" and a flourishing acting/reality-TV career that includes a season of "The Celebrity Apprentice" (he came in second) and a role in the also self-explanatory "Trailer Park of Terror."
"Cowboy's Back in Town" is meant to be lighter-hearted and less jingoistic than its predecessors. It's a good-time record that emphasizes romancing over brawling ("Whoop a Man's Ass" excepted). Better, and certainly less cartoonish, than anything Adkins has done in years, it's divided into two basic themes:
1. I guess I love you.
2. Beer is nice.
Sometimes these themes not-so-serendipitously collide: "Hold My Beer," in which a beer-drinking groom can't find a place at the altar to set down his beverage, isn't meant to be appreciated by anyone with a uterus; the less said about "Ala-Freakin-Bama," the better.
The tracks that fare best stake a middle ground between punchy and sappy, like the string-laden, Conway Twitty-ish "Still Love You," and the Eagles-suggesting "A Little Bit of Missin' You," both amiable, effortless tracks that demonstrate that the less this "Cowboy" tries, the better he is.
Recommended tracks: "This Ain't No Love Song," " A Little Bit of Missin' You"