There’s no better way to kick off an album during this troubling times than to do so with a song called Better Days A Coming. Of course, Dave Adkins had no idea when he wrote it what it might mean to a panicked population in the throes of being forced to seclude themselves at home and keep to social distancing. How could he have known, after all?
Nevertheless, in a larger sense, music can be at least one source of salvation when things seem to be at their worst. And with Better Days, his seventh album to date, Adkins serves us well for the most part with songs that express an unalterable enthusiasm for sounds that soar even now. Father of Bluegrass and Country Sunday express that sentiment best. They point to Adkin’s devotion to the things bluegrass has, at its essence, been all about — tradition, unabashed optimism, reverence for age-old precepts, and the simple joys of home and hearth. Likewise, in the song I’m Gonna Ride, Adkins looks forward to a better tomorrow, “…when I find what I’m looking for,” as he states it so succinctly. It too becomes an analogy for looking ahead to happier times that now reside over the horizon.
So too, when Adkins covers the Merle Haggard classic Sing Me Back Home, he offers listeners another nod to the nostalgia that everyone is feeling now. Granted, Haggard sang the song from the perspective of a prisoner taking his last walk down death row, but in a certain sense, the song also serves as a timely mantra for anyone who’s facing down the present maelstrom and longing for a time when people felt safe and secure.
Again, Adkins would likely be the first to admit he wasn’t foreseeing present circumstances when he initially offered this stoic sentiment. Yet, here again, each of these well-played melodies offer antidotes of their own. (The only exception may be Rattlin’ Chains, a tune that seems unusually ominous overall.) Adkins’ backing band — Joey Shann (banjo and harmony), Daniel Collier (fiddle and harmony) and Aaron Ramsey (guitar, bass and mandolin) — shares his spirit and infuses a sense of joyful revelry into each of these songs.
Ultimately, that’s what matters most these days. At a time when there’s so much to be worried about, Better Days reminds us that there are brighter possibilities that lie ahead.