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You could argue that Thomas Rhett’s route to becoming ‘Country Again’ started on his 2019 project, Centre Point Road. Despite being laden with pop impulses, songs like ‘That Old Truck’ and ‘Remember You Young’ showcased the Country songwriting purist in Rhett. I mean, does it get more Country than writing a love letter to your first Ford 4x4?
In all seriousness, what does it actually mean to be ‘Country Again’? Is it just making songs about cold beers and fishing, or is it something more? To me, at the heart of Country music lies an appreciation for a simple life, and a rejection of the insatiable, modern-day mindset of always chasing more.
On Country Again (Side A), Thomas Rhett bottles up this feeling of slowing down and being thankful for the little things - hence why, for me, it’s the perfect album for this special Slow Down and Simplify issue of Mindful Melody.
The title track acts as a summary of Rhett’s journey, epitomised by his symbolic tug-of-war between the glitz and glamour of California and the down-home modesty of Tennessee. There’s a charming straightforwardness with which the Country superstar explains his disillusionment with life in the fast lane (“I traded sunsets with my wife for hours on my phone”), so that his decision to slow down feels like it’s obviously the right option.
However, in reality, rebelling against today’s culture of relentless hurry is a pretty difficult thing to do, and often seems like anything but the obvious choice. Whenever we decide to say ‘Yes’ to self-care instead of work, it’s hard not to feel our productivity-junkie brain replying in its best Siri voice, ‘I’m sorry, I don’t understand. Please try again.’
That’s what makes Country Again (Side A) such an inspiring project. On the face of it, it’s a gentle, uncontroversial ode to spending more time with family and enjoying the simple pleasures of life. But in the modern context in which it arrives, it’s as rebellious an album as any.
Thomas Rhett doubles down on the intimacy and familiarity that has drawn in so many fans over the years. This is most apparent on the tender ‘Heaven Right Now’, on which Rhett movingly wonders what a lost friend is getting up to in Heaven. The fact that this centres around a true story only serves to increase the vulnerability of the track, and Rhett’s inclusion of specific references makes the listener feel as though they are being confided in (“They still ain’t paved that road on lower Lickton Pike, I still look for your truck sometimes at Sonic on Friday night”).
"In the modern context in which it arrives, it's as rebellious an album as any."
Despite the reflection and soul-searching that forms the backbone of Country Again (Side A), it doesn’t play as an overly serious or heavy album. Towards the end of the project, we get a couple of easygoing, party-starting jams. The first of these is the energetic ‘Put It on Ice’, featuring budding Country star HARDY, and this is followed by a light-hearted tale of blowing off work and getting lost down Country lanes on ‘Blame It on a Backroad’. Although the inclusion of these songs makes sense to temper the introspection of the previous tracks, they struggle to leave a lasting impression. After the songwriting masterclasses that we see on so many other songs on the album, you can’t help but wish for a little more meat on the bones of these pop-leaning tracks.
Thomas Rhett finishes Country Again (Side A) with a flourish, and the album-closer is undoubtedly one of my favourites. ‘Ya Heard’ feels like a natural progression from ‘Heaven Right Now’, and it sees Rhett in conversation with God about the things he feels most grateful for, whilst at the same time recalling the times that he worried his prayers weren’t ‘getting through the ceiling’. There’s a heartwarming innocence and wide-eyed wonder that pervades ‘Ya Heard’. Whether he’s giving thanks for his wife, his career, or his children, you can feel Rhett’s genuine sense of contentment emanating through each line (“Cause I look at this green-eyed girl from Tennessee, the one I bothered You about since I was 17, and I know that I wasn’t wasting breath or words, ‘Cause I look at her and I’m pretty sure Ya heard”).
It’s safe to say that Thomas Rhett has stayed true to his word of returning to his roots and becoming ‘Country Again’. I find it interesting that whenever someone has a major breakthrough or epiphany in their life, it’s often not a case of finding something they were searching for out in the world. Rather, it’s about ‘coming home’ and realising that what they needed was within them all along.
So as I end this Country Again (Side A) review - a large portion of which I’ve spent stressing how we should appreciate what we already have, and not chase after what we don’t yet have - I find myself eagerly typing into Google, “When is Thomas Rhett’s Side B released?”
Hmm, maybe I need to give this album another listen...
Country Again (Side A) is out now on all platforms!
This interview originally appeared in Mindful Melody Issue 6 - you can read it online for free or buy print editions here!
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