Country Jukebox Jury LP: Thomas Rhett – Country Again (Side A)

Thomas Rhett, or TR, is paid to make money for Big Machine, just as Taylor Swift did before him, and she owns loads of houses across the world. The collection was Album of the Week on Radio 2, which means that Big Machine think the 35-54 demographic will go wild for him as well. If he doesn’t play Country2Country in 2022, and have the station air his set live, I will eat a Stetson. It’s all about setting things up, and CMA and Radio 2 are working in tandem to ensure maximum coverage for acts like TR.

Everything powering the career of TR – radio, awards, TV, streaming platforms – is geared towards success. He is country music’s Dua Lipa. He is too big to fail, just as Morgan Wallen is too big to fail, hence the picture of Morgan going fishing with Eric Church. Like Morgan and Eric, TR is bringing out a lot of music this year in the form of Country Again. ‘Side A’ is the first part of the project.

I have a soft spot for the title track even though it is marketing with a melody, and also for the lead single which is basically ‘Stick Me on your Country Playlist’. Want It Again and Growing Up, both of which we have heard, lead off the project: the former is a three-minute movie (written by SIX people) that praises a pair who were ‘technicolor in a black-and-white room’; the latter is a middle of the dirt road reminiscin’ song that mentions ‘Coke and Crown’ in the opening couplet, fake IDs in the third and ‘less Jack in my cup’ in the chorus. He’s a dad with three kids who married his childhood sweetheart and is now making Dad Country, not songs about tailgates falling with FM on the radio (for those who remember TR before he was Dad Country).

Ya Heard made me gasp because it opens with four bars of harmonica and has a toe-tappin’ stomp which underscores reminiscences of house parties and how, after years of plugging away, ‘my face is on a shirt’. It’s about his wife, of course, as most of his songs are. Luke Laird was in the room for Where We Grew Up, a song about fishing holes, manners, Chevys, muddy jeans, sermons, ‘tailgate learnin’ and being proud of one’s hometown. That’s Country Bingo.

TR, of course, had a very rich dad who was a songwriter and performer and Grandpa Rhett co-wrote several of the album’s tracks. ‘Thanks for raising me, Dad, have some points on the songs!’

As with the title track, both track genius Zack Crowell and Ashley Gorley, who has over 50 number ones, helped write Blame It On A Backroad. The brief must have been ‘Make this sound like a Phil Vassar song from 2000’ because it’s three chords and peace of mind. ‘Like a free bird, reverb’ is a great line and there’s even some wild fiddle in the middle of the tune. 

Heaven Right Now is an acoustic weepie, a secular prayer. TR mourns a lost friend and references both Johnny Cash and Eric Church’s Sinners Like Me, asking whether the grass is greener up there. It is brilliant (and also a marketing ploy) to bring heaven back into country, after every variation of ‘hey girl let’s go to the riverbank in my truck to have sex’ has been exhausted. ‘Memory Lane goes on forever’ is a good line and I think this will become one of his big songs given the right push.

To The Guys That Date My Girls is essential Dad Country, though Rhett also wrote it, along with an old mate of Thomas’s who gave him the idea for the song and will hopefully buy something nice with the proceeds. ‘Just a friendly reminder…a little free advice’, TR sings, while Jesus pops up in the second verse. The coda is great too as he realises his girls have the potential to be ‘the whole world’ to their partners.

More Time Fishin’ is a peppy song where TR flips the bird to his boss and ‘tryin to make a killin’. This is modern country music, sonically, even as it’s basically Take This Job And Shove It. Put It On Ice was written with Hardy, the man whom Grady Smith says ‘hacked bro-country’ and who takes a fab second verse that namechecks Tom Petty. The delivery of the title crams four syllables into four semiquavers and the chorus is, as with every Hardy song, hugely melodic. I hope there’s a bluegrass or hoedown version of this song, because the arrangement doesn’t do it justice.

TR told Holler Country, in a chat full of someone who reads self-help books, that being country is ‘feeling of wanting to live simpler’. Will the 25-54 demographic go for these ‘simpler’ tunes? I think so. TR sells the idea of going fishing or drinking like the best contemporary star, Luke Combs.

For all the marketing of TR as Dad Country, the songs need to be good and these are by a mile the best of his career. His last album was ruined by the pandemic but still contained the same type of tunes. He has nonetheless stopped working with Julian Bunetta, John Ryan and Ryan Tedder and gone big on country. His fans will love it and it’ll bring in more fans. Expect to hear a lot of Side A, and I am sure plenty of Side B when it arrives in the fall, in Europe next year, perhaps in early March in Greenwich.

I don’t think he lays down with his girl at any point on Side A; maybe that’s what we will here on the second half of this tremendous project. Scott Borchetta does it again.

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