Doug Adkins is what country music could have been. Refreshingly, the Havre-born musician doesn’t mimic the vocal style that country dudes have been aping since the Big Hat era of the early ’90s, when Garth Brooks and his ilk cultivated that oh-so-country drawl copped from the genre’s original stars. On his ninth album, Adkins’ sturdy baritone firmly stands its ground. His authentic voice rolls easily between a low, beer-joint growl and a tender, wavering croon.
The songs are as straightforward as a long-neck Bud slid down the worn bartop of a hundred-year-old Montana saloon — somehow fresh and familiar at the same time. There are Waylon-esque barroom stomps (“Not Enough Whiskey”), hardwood boot-scooters (“2 Steppin’ Honky Tonk Dream”) and life-on-the-road tales (“Heroes of the Lost Highway”). It’s all classic country fare, but Adkins and his band cover these familiar subjects like they’re the first ones to sing about them. They’re tight, relaxed, and completely gimmick-free. It’s as if they’ve been operating in a vacuum, without the influence of the hyper-compressed, market-driven pop drivel that passes for country today. Check out “Wish It Were Rainin’,” a traditional throwback that’s heartfelt, beautifully arranged and just about perfect.