He was likewise unenthusiastic about signing with an independent label, which would give him more creative freedom but make it even harder to promote his songs to country radio. In December, it still appeared he would remain with Capitol. The label issued one of his six self-financed tracks, "Ala-Freakin-Bama," to stations in the state to pick up on the state spirit when Alabama won the Southeastern Conference football championship.
But around that same time, he heard that Keith was likely to merge his operations with Universal South, a division of Universal Music Group. The idea of working for an independent label with strong ties to a major sounded enticing.
"That put a different spin on everything," Adkins says.
A single phone call confirmed it. Keith spilled his plans for the merger, and Adkins in return started telling Keith about the new material he'd recorded. Before he could even finish the thought, Keith cut him off.
"He said, 'I don't need to hear them. I know what you do. If you want to be on my record label, I'm in,' " Adkins recalls. "And that's what I wanted to hear."
Universal South likewise was happy to hear about the Adkins-Keith partnership, which was essentially locked up at the same time Keith completed the merger forming Show Dog-Universal.
"[I was] thinking that we were going to get this one big star," Show Dog-Universal president Mark Wright says. "I didn't know it would be two. Manna from heaven."
Adkins officially signed his recording contract in front of reporters at a Jan. 13 press conference announcing the new label. And Show Dog-Universal gave Adkins plenty of leeway as he completed the 11-track album, allowing him the space to express his own creative voice.
"He's got a lot of courage when it comes to making music," Wright says. "If he feels it, he'll sing it. He doesn't sit back and go, 'Oh, I wonder if this'll work.' To me, that's courage."
The first single, "This Ain't No Love Song," represents the album well. "It's not just a one-listen, pablum record," Wright says. "It's all about the story. The more you hear that story, the more you love that song." The track is No. 30 this week on Hot Country Songs.
Adkins' reach is a little wider than is typical for a country singer who hasn't had a crossover airplay hit. "He's very articulate and well-read, and his intellect is a little higher than most people probably want to give him credit for," Beard says. "He's not that dumb country boy from north Louisiana."