Velveeta Elvis

Hat country's resident assman talks "tough" and gets to third base

Somewhere in this bar—not necessarily in the North or South, not exclusively populated by rednecks and honkies, not entirely decorated with televisions showing NASCAR and posters portraying that sport's unlikely all-female pit crew—the song begins to play. It announces itself like the rush of saliva after a bad taco, and before the first 10-gallon riff shrieks out into the parking lot, everyone in the place grows a shit-eating grin, be they hell-raising or God-fearing, cowboys or CPAs.

Recently, the song is Trace Adkins's "Swing," a marriage of Angus Young and Riverdance that tills the already well-tilled ground of baseball euphemisms for sex. But you've been screaming drink orders over Trace's voice since he rallied "Honky Tonk Badonkadonk" (notable as Nashville's biggest ringtone) to the dancefloor last year. With his late-blooming career, Trace has earned a place on the country charts, if not in the Hall of Fame, as the Toby Keith who doesn't inhale.

It's apropos that his newest smash is about the national pastime: Dangerous Man's other 12 tracks present similar American vistas, with bad-boy ruminations on flag, faith, and fornication that alternate between riff-heavy stompers and velve(e)t(a) nostalgia. The suburban girl who can't get enough of her "wild-eyed boy with a farmer's tan" inspires the sing-along "Ladies Love Country Boys" and provides the record's deepest hook. But it's light on standout hits, over-relying on Trace's booming voice as he threatens "a good-ol' country ass-whooping" to anyone dissing "his god/Or his mama/Or this flag."

But it's the thumping "Badonkadonk" remix that demonstrates the extent, and the limitations, of Trace's crossover might. By nicking a synth breakdown from the Mortal Kombat soundtrack and production values from the Neptunes, it demonstrates just how much hat country—and its audience—has abandoned the genre's traditional sonic character for big-box aesthetics, pandering not only to Wal-Mart as usual, but Target and Bed Bath & Beyond too. In Trace's world, though, country music isn't about the way it sounds: It's about the idea of America, and not necessarily the North or South. And not necessarily dangerous, either.

 
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