Dave Adkins has been establishing himself for the past few years, both fronting his own band (once Republik Steele, now The Dave Adkins Band) and as part of Dave Adkins & Edgar Loudermilk, a group that received an IBMA nomination in 2015. Despite having his finger in a pair of outfits, Adkins manages to maintain a consistent sound - deeply voiced, his style of music swings comfortably between hard country and Stanley-inspired bluegrass.
"Dave Adkins" checks several seemingly increasingly required boxes for mainstream, contemporary bluegrass:
A Tom T. Hall song? Check - "It's Not Over" - along with the increasingly commonly asked, a Chris Stapleton drinking song? Check - "Fool-o-sophy."
A remake of a country hit? Regrettably in this case, an unnecessary run through of a song no one has ever asked to hear again, "Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident.)"
An unjustly convicted fellow ballad? "Russell Fork River."
How about a "She's left me, but I ain't given up" song? Yup - "Change Her Mind."
A religious song? "A Lot More to Tell."
You get the picture - an ostensibly standard collection of songs, perhaps, but Adkins pulls it off with no little bit of swagger and aplomb. These are all (with the exception of "Sold" and the over-wrought power-ballad "Angel Song") well-crafted pieces, with the punch and drive that can only come from bluegrass, but with a subtle softening palatable for those outside the niche.
The finest tracks come from the songwriting team of Adkins, Dawn Kenny and David Morris. The atmospheric "Russell Fork River," a wonderfully constructed song of unjust execution, does more than provide a mid-set interlude of introspection; without putting too much weight onto a bluegrass song, the songwriters challenge us to consider our propensity to rush judgment. "Turn and Burn" was recognized by placing in the Hazel Dickens songwriting contest, and this lively truck driving anthem shows the dexterity of the songwriting trio.
Adkins gathered several top players to help. Tony Wray (Blue Mafia) handles much of the lead guitar work, a top feature of this set. Aaron Ramsey handles the majority of the mandolin, while Tim Crouch is the fiddler. Band member Curtis Bumgarner very ably handles the banjo parts, with Jeff Partin laying out the bass.
Bluegrass is a tough way to make a living, and we fault no one who finds ways to pay the bills playing the music. That Adkins has a couple outlets for his songs and vision hasn't been to the detriment of this album. Distinctively voiced, Adkins' second solo release builds on the momentum established by his previous recordings including the very fine 2015 album of last year with Loudermilk.