Since Thomas Rhett scored his first number one in 2013 with ‘It Goes Like This’, he’s been on an upwards trajectory that has seen him break free of the confines of the Country music genre and become a true crossover star. With an incredible 17 number ones under his belt, and millions of albums sold across his four studio albums to date, Rhett hasn’t been afraid to experiment with his sound. That was most evident on 2017’s ‘Life Changes’ and with 2019’s disappointing ‘Center Point Road’, he tried to marry both sides of his music but, for me, didn’t quite manage it. Fast forward two years and Rhett is on the cusp of releasing the first half of his ambitious double-album ‘Country Again’.
‘Country Again: Side A’ arrives with a number hit already included, ‘What’s Your Country Song’, and many will be wondering if Rhett has returned to Country music or whether the title is a gimmick. I’m pleased to say Rhett firmly has both feet in Country on this record and it’s his finest body of work to date. Having more in common with debut album ‘It Goes Like This’ than any of his other releases, ‘Country Again: Side A’ finds Rhett co-writing all 11 of the tracks and it refocuses on true, good-old fashioned stories about living the country life.
From the opening bars of ‘Want It Again’, it feels so good to be hearing Rhett in a more-stripped back setting without the pop production that has been all over his last few records. With producers Dan Huff and Jesse Frasure taking the reins, for the most part, Rhett has crafted a collection of stories that reflect on his life now and the lessons he’s learned over the last decade or so. There’s a feeling on contentment that runs through this songs, whether that’s musing about how Rhett might react when his three daughters start dating on the standout ‘To The Guys That Date My Girls’ or the acceptance that with age comes changes to your outlook and needs as highlighted on the fantastic ‘Growing Up’.
‘What’s Your Country Song’, which for me signalled a rebirth for Rhett, finds the singer-songwriter listing out tropes of Country music and the way people relate to it. In doing so, he’s recorded one of his most memorable songs to date and it’s no surprise it soared all the way to the top of the charts. On the sensitive acoustic-driven ‘Heaven Right Now’, one of the several co-writes with his father Rhett Akins, Rhett allows his emotion to come out as he sings of the passing of a friend.
The title track ‘Country Again’ is my favourite moment on the record. It encapsulates what this entire project is about and Rhett has never sounded better. Lyrically the song is about how Rhett started to spend more time in L.A. than Nashville, and how he’s been reconnecting with his Georgia roots and his Nashville sensibilities. It’s the journey we all go through as we move through the ‘grass is greener’ period of our lives, only to discover what we appreciate the most is what we had in the first place.
Perhaps the odd track out here is ‘Put It On Ice’ featuring Hardy. It stands out because it’s by far the most contemporary sounding of the songs here and the rap-like chorus is either going to be embraced or loathed by fans. As it’s a one-off, it works in this context for me and it brings a little variety towards the end of the record.
The album comes to a close with the one-two punch of ‘Blame It On A Backroad’, a feel-good summer-ready anthem, and the breezy ‘Ya Heard’ where Rhett looks back on his journey so far, reflects on his relationship with God and celebrates his ever-growing family. It’s a positive and upbeat note to end the album on.
‘Country Again: Side A’ is a triumph and it’s nice to hear Rhett content in the genre that he made his name in. The production is cleaner and simpler than what we’ve heard from Rhett in a long time, the lyrics are strong, and it’s nice to hear Rhett’s natural Country twang come through on these relatable tales about growing up and appreciating what you have in life. With this record so strong, I can’t wait to see what ‘Country Again: Side B’ brings and Rhett is firmly up there in my favourite artists once again.
Track listing: 1. Want It Again 2. Growing Up 3. What’s Your Country Song 4. Where We Grew Up 5. Heaven Right Now 6. To The Guys That Date My Girls 7. More Time Fishin’ 8. Country Again 9. Put It On Ice (feat. Hardy) 10. Blame It On A Backroad 11. Ya Heard Record label: Valory Music Co. Release date: 30th April 2021 Buy ‘Country Again: Side A’ now