The other day I was reflecting. As you do when the world has gone to pieces because of COVID-19 and other things, and you have extra time on your hands. I think I was sitting. Or maybe I was standing? Anyhoo, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that as I was reflecting on the year that was and is- and boy haven’t we all have had it rough, and don’t we all wish that 2020 would be ‘over’! – it slowly dawned on me that I’ve actually written 25 blogs out of 50, for artists who I deem as just coming to be influential now (for their respective genres and for their vastly different audiences), or maybe about other artists who may not be influential yet but will be within 5-10 years. I know that that is a mouthful to remember, because one’s definition of influence differs from person to person, and who you reckon is influential is who I reckon is not, and vice versa; yet nevertheless I have reached the half way point on my musical journey that I never thought that I would ever embark on in my wildest dreams. And the results so far… well they’re interesting. I stepped into this journey not knowing which artists would speak to me and what wisdom would be imparted to me- a similar thought process to Jon when he embarked on his much grander musical journey; yet at this half way point, much like Jon at his half way point, the questions I asked myself remained, and the answers to them not so clear cut… which in some ways is a good thing as it means that God is still speaking. I mean, have I learned anything about the music industry at large at this point, or about specific genres that I hadn’t known about before, or was God speaking to me in a profound way through an artist who I previously thought was superficial or shallow? Or was I even underwhelmed by a certain artist for whatever reason? And most of all, did I feel good about my choices of artists to include on this list at the end of the day, considering there’s other talented and up and coming artists who missed the cut on this arbitrary list?
You see, I’ve spoken about ‘up and coming’ country artists (Maren Morris, Kelsea Ballerini, Jana Kramer, Hunter Hayes, Lauren Alaina), pop artists (Echosmith, Jess Glynne, Alessia Cara, Rachel Platten, Hailee Steinfeld, Tori Kelly), a couple of former Disney starlets who in hindsight may not have fit in my list but still needed to be discussed (Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato), a girl group not popular in America at all (Little Mix), and a CCM artist who’s been in the spotlight for eons now, but only recently has become influential in my own life (Matthew West). Freddy Mercury vocal dead ringer Marc Martel makes my list, as do a couple of Aussies in Conrad Sewell and Dami Im; while I most recently wrote about alternative rock band Colony House, fronted by Caleb and Will Chapman, CCM legend Steven Curtis Chapman’s sons. There’s a whole plethora of artists I’ve written about (and you can read about them here) and there’s tons more that I’ve yet to write about; and while some will divide you all and some other artists you will agree upon, the fact does remain clear. That music is subjective, that music can help us feel less alone and that we’re all in community with each other (just think about the livestreams of One World: Together At Home, Class of 2020 or CMA Summer Stay-Cay), and that any music can be used by God to comfort, heal, confront, challenge and help us grow as a believer and as a person. Yet if you are not of faith, then music can inspire and encourage you as well.
Music can lift the spirits, can better your understanding of the world around you, and can unlock doors of many different areas of your life that need healing or reveal aspects of yourself that you never would’ve known about had it not been for music in general. As a human race, while music does indeed unite us, it can divide us as we scramble to voice our opinions as to which music genre, or which artist is the best objectively. And while agreement between everyone of the ‘best’ artist objectively that cannot happen at all, as we’ll always have our favourites and our preferences which obviously differ from each other; music is able to do one thing that probably nothing else in the world can do. And it’s to make us humble, and to make us realise that yes, me and my friends have infinitely different musical tastes- ‘I love CCM and he likes rap and she likes country’- but we all still get along through our shared love of music, and we all respect each other as people. Love of music and differing opinions about which genre is ‘better’ usually doesn’t end up in a full on fist fight or brawl, and that’s because music softens the heart, stirs our souls for social justice and compassion for our fellow man in some cases, and reminds us all the no matter what music we listen to, objectively every single artist has a message- whether it’s a message that builds or destroys, that’s another matter entirely- and that we can find the beauty and the wonder in any kind of song, which is more often that not placed there by God in order for us to understand that humans are complex, but God has given us abilities beyond anything we’re capable of. Whether musicians use this gift in one genre of music or another, or even across multiple genres… well that’s immaterial. What matters is this- that songs today continually ask questions about life, love, loss and everything in between; about God, death, pain, hurt, suffering, doubt and more questions. And in the wrestling of this crazy world called life, that artists reconcile with the fact that this world is indeed is broken, and that we’ll never fully be ok this side of heaven. That artists understand that through the questioning, listeners will understand that this life isn’t simple, but with family, friends, with God, and even with acquaintances by your side, life becomes infinitely more satisfying and enjoyable. I know that we’re all hanging on the end of our own ropes and we cannot see what we are tethered to during this COVID-19 pandemic which indeed is going on and on and on and on; but through music, we can at least know that we’re not alone, that we’re all in this together, and that life is a journey that we all go on together, regardless on the pain and hurt we face along the way. Music brings solace and makes us feel better- and that’s all I want to show in this blog series. Artists who are true, authentic and are bringing smiles to our faces. Sure they may not be as popular as artists who solely sing about having a good time and living it up, but I reckon it is these types of artists- the artists who probe, dive deep into ‘taboo’ issues and continually ask questions, whom I’ve written about in this blog series thus far that will stand the test of time, that could well be some of the greats of music in 50 years’ time! One such artist is Thomas Rhett, who started out in country music in 2013, yet has since expanded into pop and R&B throughout the rest of his discography and career.
Generally speaking, people are picky. When we find an artist we like, and are accustomed to their ‘sound’ from the get-go, sometimes it’s hard for us to accept that artists evolve musically and that they’re allowed to expand their tastes, or even change their preferences, depending on what they feel is authentic and true to them at a particular point in time. Sometimes it’s hard to like an artist and their musical evolution, when the very fabric of what we believed made them unique and fitted our mould of what ‘this type of artist should sound like’ is ripped away, all because it seemed like this artist is ‘selling out’ to the masses. We’re so picky that we target a musician’s character and we assassinate their whole being as a person when we find out they’ve done a 180 in terms of musical genre. And while us humans are somewhat naturally wired like that, I personally reckon that that’s not the way to go and that’s not how we all should be acting. I’ve realised that a lot of comments on Youtube has mentioned that Thomas Rhett isn’t a true country artist, and that he’s deluding many fans by leading true country fans astray. There’s lots of comments that praise his fusion of country and pop, and his fusion of country and R&B; yet there are a few people who want to flex their muscles behind a screen and school others on how genres should sound like, and point out that Thomas Rhett is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. I can’t remember where I read this comment, but I did, and it was just laughable. Yet before I judge, let me remind you all that we all are guilty of saying stupid stuff, and are all quick to judge others before knowing the full story. So as I quote Jon and myself in other reviews we’ve done for Jeremy Camp and Kutless (two of the most polarising CCM artists given their transition from hard rock to CCM), as well as quote a definition of country music by Wikipedia, and show you all a video about country reviewer Grady Smith giving his opinion on country music as a whole; let us remember that music is music, and that regardless if Thomas Rhett’s music isn’t ‘country’ by the definitions of the world, it still holds value and it still inspires, and still connects with all of us on a soul level.
About Jeremy Camp’s album I Will Follow: It has been said that whenever an artist moves from their original genre to another midway throughout their career, that either they feel called to change their genre and in all intended purposes, thrive in their new genre, or they have lost their initial purpose as a band (inclusive of genre) and are just grasping at different musical styles because they are unsure of which genre to latch onto, choose and run with. With many people thinking the second possibility when it comes to artists like Sanctus Real, Kutless, Hawk Nelson and even Group 1 Crew, from their respective genres of rock, hard rock, pop-punk and hip hop to CCM; I like to assume the 1st possibility whenever an artist switches genres for whatever reason. While it may take a while being used to an artist’s different style, it is still at testament to whomever listens of the versatility of the artist in question. Moving onto Jeremy Camp, whom this review is about, starting his musical quest in hard rock, then moving to rock, worship and pop, you can be easily forgiven to think that Jeremy’s latest album I Will Follow will be a further departure from the rock he embraced in Stay.
About Jeremy Camp’s song “Word Of Life”: Jeremy’s subsequent release of ‘Word of Life’, that dropped on iTunes and other digital outlets a few days ago (also released on Capitol CMG), sadly seems to be moving into the direction of corporate worship/radio friendly CCM a la Chris Tomlin. That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with Jeremy or his music per se. To be fair, if Jeremy feels like right now, he’s called to minister into the CCM market, then fair enough. However, this song feels like a drastic departure from his early days of hard rock in his 2002 album Stay. Sure as artists continue in such an industry, their sound evolves. However, upon listening to ‘Word of Life’ a few times, while the message is great and the heart and passion behind the song is undeniable, this song only stands out because of rhyming lyrics and a catchy beat, rather than unique lyricism and heartfelt poignancy (think songs from artists like Jason Gray, Andrew Peterson, Nichole Nordeman, Josh Wilson etc.). But this is not a review to knock down Jeremy in any way- but rather, it’s to point out what I think is lacking in this song- which is the originality of it. Put it this way- if any other artist was singing this track, it wouldn’t have mattered. Put Chris Tomlin on it, or Danny Gokey, or Phil Wickham, or MercyMe, or Kutless, or anyone who is currently ‘big’ in the CCM industry at the moment. Anyone singing this, I’d automatically think they’d wrote the song. It’s like, there are certain songs that have a feel to it, and you know that it’s a Hillsong-esque track or a Jesus Culture-esque one. In this instance, ‘Word of Life’ sadly doesn’t have a ‘stamp’ on it, which is a shame.
About Kutless’ Alpha/Omega: Though fans might lament the Kutless of yesteryear, I for one welcome the worship band with open arms. In knowing that Alpha/Omega is kind of a direct sequel to It Is Well, we should remember that rock isn’t at the forefront here, and that’s ok. Jon’s prowess as a songwriter and singer is still quite remarkable, and I can’t wait for Kutless’ future projects, if this varied and musically different album is anything to go by. Though Kutless will always be the band that everyone will talk about, for both the CCM and rock music styles, and their divergence in styles; let us all remember that the band are travelling in the musical direction of where God is leading them, and where He wants them to go, even if it leads them away from rock. Anyway, fans of Switchfoot, Skillet, Chris Tomlin and Jeremy Camp will certainly love this new offering from Kutless, so sit back, and worship along with Jon Micah Sumrall and friends.
Country music according to Wikipedia: Country (also called country and western) is a genre of popular music that takes its roots from genres such as blues and old-time music, and various types of American folk music including Appalachian, Cajun, and the cowboy Western music styles of Red Dirt, New Mexico, Texas country, and Tejano. Its popularized roots originate in the Southern United States of the early 1920s. Country music often consists of ballads and dance tunes with generally simple forms, folk lyrics, and harmonies mostly accompanied by string instruments such as banjos, electric and acoustic guitars, steel guitars (such as pedal steels and dobros), and fiddles as well as harmonicas. Blues modes have been used extensively throughout its recorded history.
According to Lindsey Starnes, the term country music gained popularity in the 1940s in preference to the earlier term hillbilly music; it came to encompass Western music, which evolved parallel to hillbilly music from similar roots, in the mid-20th century. In 2009 in the United States, country music was the most listened to rush hour radio genre during the evening commute, and second most popular in the morning commute. The term country music is used today to describe many styles and subgenres. The origins of country music are found in the folk music of working class Americans and blue-collar American life. It has been inspired by American popular music, and American folk music which had its roots in Celtic music, traditional English ballads, cowboy songs, corridos, African-American, French folk music, and other folk musical traditions.
As you can read from our thoughts on Jeremy Camp and Kutless who changed their own style, it sure sounds like we were picky back then. And we were, I won’t deny that at all. But as time has progressed, I’ve come to realise that we can’t all be judge, jury and executioner in terms of which genres artists are allowed to step into. We can’t decide if an artist’s songs are meaningful or if an artist is likeable only if they’re in a particular genre. It’s not up to us. it’s completely up to the artist. What is up to us to feel the song as we’re hearing it, and then say ‘yes that resonates’ or ‘no it doesn’t’ despite the genre. Easier said than done, right? Because if you look at what Wikipedia deems as ‘country music’ (which you can read more in depth about here!), and then contrast that at with what Thomas has recorded lately- you can tell that this is not your traditional country music. there’s no fiddles, no banjos, no mandolins, and the country twang from Thomas is only present in his first album, then it sort of disappeared- which begs the question of did Thomas Rhett fake a country accent in his first album to gain credibility as a country artist? in the end though, does it matter if Thomas is country or not? What I’ve learnt throughout my previous 25 blogs is that music as so many layers and so many complexities. Thomas’s music follows this trend also, as we are invited into a musical journey that crosses many genres, yet still exhibits the same heart, joy, love, raw emotion and honesty that seems to be lacking in many of the pop artists of today.
I’ve come to realise pretty quickly as I was listening to Thomas for the first time that he isn’t like the greats of country like Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Alan Jackson and George Strait amongst others (and yes, I did have to google these names for your own information, because I myself aren’t well versed in the country artists of old!). Yet that doesn’t mean that Thomas’ brand of modern pop/country music shouldn’t be celebrated. Because from where I’m standing, he’s one of the most impacting, emotional, heart-warming, relatable and relevant artists today, period. And no amount of arguments or genre defining can twist that fact. Thomas’ debut album It Goes Like This released in 2013 when he was 23, and spawned the radio hits like “Something To Do With My Hands”, “It Goes Like This”, “Get Me Some Of That”, “Make Me Wanna” and “Take You Home”. Musically this album is laden with electric guitars, and much of this album’s lyrical content is pretty much about partying and about his affections for girls. Unfortunately this album was a bit of a let down for me, given that it’s his debut and Thomas was probably finding his footing and his sound and his niche market at his identity in what he wants to say to the country music market and to all music markets. It’s not that these songs aren’t catchy- they are, but other albums from Thomas resonate with me more. While “Something To Do With My Hands” emphatically speaks about being restless and wanting to show affection for the one that he loves, “Get Me Some Of That” is a pop ditty, that lyrically is a bit questionable, as the underlying message is that women are like property so much so that Thomas says ‘…I gotta get me, gotta get me some of that…’. “It Goes Like This” is one of the highlights on the album, as Thomas earnestly relays the essence of the song he wants to communicate to his significant other, pointing out that the beat and the hook of the song ‘goes like this’; while “Make Me Wanna” delves into Thomas’ intense love (stalkerish?) towards a friend or a girlfriend- and even though the heart behind the song I believe is earnest and honest; the lyrics unfortunately make the song a bit icky. “Take Me Home” is another song that rubs the wrong way personally. As Thomas possibly sings from the perspective of a man in love with a girl who may not be able to take no for an answer and desperately wants to take her home; this track in fact could be sung as a warning to us not to be associated with intense people like that in any facet of our lives. While the electric guitar led ballad “Sorry For Partyin’” delves into a sincere and heartfelt apology (or is it?) as Thomas apologises to all kinds of people that he is indeed throwing a big party, outlining that it got out of control- though he hardly makes any attempt in the song to work out a beneficial solution in order to keep down the noise and make his neighbourhood much more liveable. Again another warning song- this time to the young people about the perils of partying too hard and not taking care of your own well-being emotionally, physically and spiritually; this song on the surface sounds like a ‘blanket apology so that we can still live it up’ kind of song, but a deeper listen reveals to me someone deeply remorseful for his actions yet unable to take the next step in being part of the solution.
“In A Minute” lyrically is similar to “Sorry For Partyin’”, as Thomas once again relays to us another carpe diem type of track, outlining the kind of things he wants to do if there were no consequences and if it was the end of the earth. Singing out with passion that this world could be gone ‘in a minute’ thus giving him reason to act irresponsibly with such disdain for the well being of everyone else; a much deeper listen personally reveals that Thomas is asking the question of what do we all value and hold in high regard- and whatever that is we should focus on that right now, because we all may not be here tomorrow. Whether it’s mending a broken relationship or cultivating a new one, or travelling around the world or learning a new language- whatever you treasure and value should be indeed what you focus your time and money on. After all, the world could be gone in a minute, and what then? If all you have is worry and regret, why not alleviate those stresses by doing the important stuff now rather than waiting for some non-existent time in the future? And this brings me to the album closer “Beer With Jesus”, an acoustic guitar led ballad which asks some pretty heavy stuff. As Thomas dives in deep and delves into his own questions and doubts, this track is similar in theme to “Dear God” from Hunter Hayes, as Thomas brings his own Christian faith to the table, allowing his doubts to be voiced, and hopefully strengthening it in the process. While many listeners weren’t happy with the song, and some critics were hung up on Thomas having a beer with Jesus, of sinning in Jesus’ presence, rather than him having a beer with Jesus, communing with the Almighty and just hanging out (two completely different things, one the emphasis is on the beer and the other the emphasis is on Jesus!); I for one see nothing wrong with this song theologically. Particularly when Thomas asks God ‘…how’d you turn the other cheek, to save a sorry soul like me? Do you hear the prayers I send? And what happens when life ends? And when you think you’re comin’ back again?…Have you been there from the start? How’d you change a sinner’s heart? And is Heaven really just beyond the stars? Yeah, I’d tell everyone, but no one would believe it…’, you can hear the real honesty and emotion in his voice… and from this song alone where Thomas asks us the real tough questions and doesn’t sugar coat anything, we can tell (or at least I can!) that he’s a special artist bound for greatness. And ask I look back and see how much I actually liked this album as opposed to what I asserted earlier, that ‘this album was a bit of a letdown for me’ – it goes to show you that you can’t judge a book by its cover. In the same token you can’t judge an album by the first few songs. Else I wouldn’t be able to hear Thomas’s “Beer With Jesus”, one of the most important songs of his whole career. As Thomas and his father singer Rhett Akins both made history in 2013 when half of the top 10 singles on the Country Airplay chart were written by Thomas or his father; this feat should be enough to persuade you to check out Thomas’s music. Yet if you’re not a country fan, and are wondering where all the pop is… well than look no further than Tangled Up from 2015.
Apart from “Beer With Jesus”, many of the other songs were great and enjoyable, but didn’t have much of a lasting impression. That’s not the case with the genre-expanding Tangled Up. Maybe the reason why I found this album a whole lot more cohesive music-wise and lyric-wise was that Thomas got married to his high school sweetheart Lauren in 2012, and their love story is more reflected in this album rather than the first. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of emotional tracks and hard-hitting moments here, as we are presented with one of the most well-rounded sophomore albums I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. “Crash And Burn”, compete with whistles and hand claps, takes more of a pop direction, as Thomas laments his track record in relationships (obviously singing about before he was married!), and sings about how he let another girl ‘crash and burn’; while tracks like “Vacation” and “T-Shirt” has Thomas throwing in the towel of country and going full pop, and singing about the feeling of being on vacation, and the happiness he feels when his wife is wearing his T-shirt, respectively. Some listeners would point at these places and say ‘see, see, this is where Thomas Rhett sells out’, but I would argue and say that Thomas is trying his hand successfully at different untapped markets. Why can’t Thomas be country and pop? Just a thought. “I Feel Good” is similar to “In A Minute” in the sense that it’s a happy-go-lucky track about jumping for joy and living your best life as much as possible, yet some could say that it’s a ‘nothing’ song. I tend to differ in this assessment, as it speaks about appreciating life for what it is and just being thankful and happy for having breath in our lungs and expressing that gratitude through dance.
If you thought that Tangled Up was devoid of any slower ballads and songs of greater substance, then let me prove you wrong. “The Day you Stop Looking Back” is an encouragement mainly to the women out there, relaying to them that they shouldn’t keep looking back at their past relationships, and instead they should look forward to the future- and it’s only at this point in time that they can truly start to live in freedom. But I guess that this song can be for anyone and expanded to anything- not just relationships, in the sense that you can’t live your life fully and freely if you still hold grudges and hate and animosity towards others who have supposedly wronged you. “Playing With Fire”, a stirring duet with Jordin Sparks, delves into a taxic and unhealthy relationship, reminding us all that we need to stay away from those as they’re like ‘playing with fire’; while deluxe edition tracks like “Star Of The Show” and “American Spirit”, speaks about his love for his wife- one a straight up romantic song that essentially states that she is the star of his show (as in his life), and the other a patriotic song about America, yet also singing about gratitude that he’s found the American dream with her. “Like It’s the Last Time” is definitely the spiritual sequel to “In A Minute”, and briefly speaks about living life as if ‘it’s the last time’; yet it is the romantic ballad “Die A Happy Man”, that won over critics and listeners alike. Singing about the love he has for his wife, and that ‘…if I never get to see the Northern Lights, or if I never get to see the Eiffel Tower at night, oh, if all I got is your hand in my hand, baby, I could die a happy man…’, Thomas eloquently reminds us that being with the ones you love and spending time with family is the most important thing of all. Even more important than amassing money and possessions and going on holidays and having multiple homes and having a flashy car. Those things are great, don’t get me wrong… but if there’s no one to spend your money with, if there’s no one to enjoy life with, then what good is material possessions in the end? With Tori Kelly brilliantly guesting on a remix of the track in the deluxe edition of the album, Tangled Up shows us how Thomas has evolved, yet also still creating thought-provoking music.
…I’m always trying to figure out where country music is heading, and this record [Center Point Road] has that perfect balance of pop-leaning progressive and the songwriting side, which is the truest side. The reason why I’m not [country enough] is just so comical to me, and it’s because I don’t have a fiddle. So you are saying if ‘VHS’ had a fiddle, then you’re good? I have so much clarity in my career at this point, and, man, I get it. There are a lot of things on here that are pop and hip-hop influenced. But just because I don’t have a fiddle on my song doesn’t mean I am not a country singer…if you record in a genre, then you are recording in a box and that’s not how music was supposed to be made. [‘Old Town Road’] feels like it is part of our format now…
If you thought that Thomas would go back to country after this album, then sadly you’d me mistaken. There’s more and more pop songs on his latest two albums (which have to be read as a package because their themes are so intertwined, it’s not funny!), and I guess at this point Thomas would be considered as a pop artist with country roots and country influences. Yet even though Life Changes and Center Point Road deviate musically from what Thomas was and is classified as (which in some ways frustrates me), in no way does this mean that I’m abandoning listening to his music. there’s somewhat of a breath of fresh air here, and I hope it’s the case for you all too. “Craving You”, the lead single from Life Changes, a big anthemic pop number featuring Maren Morris on guest vocals, is delivered quite cleverly, as a mini-movie music video about an undercover cop being seduced by a female gang member, with the song about a man and a woman longing to be together while they’re apart, while “Unforgettable”, also from Life Changes, is probably directly pulled from Thomas’ life, as he most likely sings about the night he and his wife met, or the night he knew that he’s want to be with his wife (then-girlfriend) forever. It’s a sweet song about commitment, and a track that we all long to strive for, for all of our relationships.
“Sweetheart” and “Grave” are other heartfelt and vulnerable relationship style songs from Thomas, as the former is a swinging jazz style Michael Buble-like track that basically declares the depth of his love for his sweetheart, and the latter is a pop/rock declaration that his love for his wife will transcend even the grave- an intense yet compelling and resonating track which reminds me of God’s infinite love for each of us that transcends space and time. “Blessed” may be a pretty odd title considering the controversy around the phrase ‘white blessing’, however this groovy light-pop track has Thomas counting his blessings, and thanking God for bringing his wife into his life, while the dance/pop/EDM track “Look what God Gave Her” is another ‘thanking God’ type of song, as Thomas sings to his friends and fans and asking them to see the wonder and beauty of what God has done, of God’s providence and faithfulness in his life thus far. The piano prominent duet “Center Point Road”, a passionate duet with Kelsea Ballerini, speaks about the wonder of life when times were simpler, and subtly encourages us all to hold onto the times that are good, as you’ll never know when they’ll be gone (similar in theme to Owl City’s “Unbelievable”!), while “Things You Do For Love” is a power pop anthem, that has a simple yet effective message of comprising a little bit and doing things for the one you love, even though it won’t feel like compromise because you’re making the other person happy!
“Notice”, a soft piano ballad, has Thomas eloquently relaying to his wife reassurances over her insecurities, declaring that he does notice every detail about her and that he falls more in love with her every day; while “Dream You Never Had” delves into the tension and dichotomy of living a musicians life on the road while having a family and them sacrificing everything for you to achieve that dream. It’s a dream they never had, and Thomas thanks them for putting up with and living this dream. And though Thomas doesn’t ask his wife whether she’s happy, it’s evident in these songs that their love is so strong that she would probably be happy with living Thomas’ dream. Tracks like these throughout Thomas’ career could make us believe that he’s flaunting his near-perfect marriage in our faces and saying that he has it all together when he obviously doesn’t. Yet as Thomas is one of the kings of tear-jerkers, we are glimpsed into more heartbreak, reminding us all that superstars are human too and they all fall down sometimes.
“Life Changes”, the title track of the third album, combines pop and R&B (with country nowhere to be heard!), and is probably the heartbeat of many of the songs that Thomas is writing these days, and should be the heartbeat of our own life too. As Thomas sings in this autobiographical track about how he got married, the views of the haters that said they were too young (22 years old!), and also about the two kids he had back to back, we are presented with the ever true notion that ‘…ain’t it funny how life changes, you wake up, ain’t nothing the same and life changes, you can’t stop it, just hop on the train, and you never know what’s gonna happen, you make your plans and you hear God laughing, life changes, and I wouldn’t change it for the world, the world…’. And while this song is a tad cliché and full of similes and metaphors about life that we all have heard before; the sentiment is indeed true that you can’t indeed make plans for anything with great detail. God is always working, and things ae bound to go ‘not according to plan’. Thus this song, though not country, is necessary for most, if not all of us who are trying to plan every single moment of every single day of our lives. It’s not worth it. It’s not worth it to be stressed over something we don’t have control over- and once we understand this the same way that Thomas did, then I reckon life will be all the more enjoyable and satisfying when we go with the flow and see the beauty of the present.
“Drink A Little Beer” with Thomas’ dad Rhett, as well as “Beer Can’t Fix” with Jon Pardi are possibly tongue-in-cheek songs that basically call out the practice of beer drinking, and subtly questions whether drinking beer makes everything ok again, and whether drinking beer solves all of our problems; while “That Old Truck” is a heartfelt guitar led ballad that praises Thomas’s truck, as it has sentimental value to him as many life changing experiences occurred in the truck, and it gives him good memories, as ‘…I grew up in it, yeah, I got stuck in it, playin’ our song on the stereo, drivin’ ’til we ran outta road, yeah, I broke up in it, I fell in love in it, made a lifetime full of memories on a half tank of gasoline, I learned just who I wasn’t and who I was in that old truck…’. But probably the most personal track that Thomas has ever recorded come in the pair of emotional songs “Marry Me” and “Remember You Young”.
The piano prominent “Marry Me” is a vivid recount of how Thomas met his wife, fell in love, broke up with her while in college, and then fought for her love while she was with another guy and almost on the road to marrying him instead. While the song doesn’t have a happy ending per se, the music video shows us a whole lot more, as we are presented with probably a dramatized yet still accurate representation of what went down, and about how Lauren left her boyfriend for Thomas- encouraging us all to take a risk, a leap of faith, and to be bold and brave in the midst of fear- with regards to relationships and other things. If we’re cool with letting life coast by, then we won’t ever get anything in life that we want. Therefore this track of “Marry Me” is meant to encourage, and to me it sure does, about how we should never be scared about the things in life that we want, and about the fact that we should never be afraid of fear- it only has power over us if we let it. I for one have never been in a relationship before, but this song gives me hope- that I would fight for love and for the person when the opportunity arises. I am positive it’ll bring you all hope too. “Remember You Young”, the music video sequel to “Marry Me” is sung from the perspective of a man near to the end of his life and singing to his wife, that he’ll always remember her young. The song brings a tear to my eye because of that emotional twist of an ending, but the track is needed despite the outpouring of emotion it could possibly give- as we are encouraged to cherish the present and remember to live life with intention, purpose and meaning. Even though Thomas’ most recent material isn’t country at all (only by definition, or maybe his 5th album will be more country than before?), it’s songs like “Marry Me” and “Remember You Young” that has me respecting him all the more, and has me declaring that no matter what genre Thomas is in, that he will excel at, and always provide us all with some food for thought.
…my wife is my rock, man. During this [COVID-19 quarantine] she was the one kind of coaching me saying, ‘Hey! I understand that this is not normal. And I know that you want to be on the road, but you kind of have to look at the positive side of this stuff, too. Like, even though you can’t tour, you are getting to spend triple the amount of time with your family.’ You just gotta make up games out of nowhere to just keep the kids entertained. We’ve been watching a lot of movies and getting outside quite a bit. But it’s been a blast. I’ve never been at home this much in 10 years. So on that side of things it’s been really great to get to put my kids to bed every night and wake up with them and get to hang out with them more than I would if I was on the road…
Always ever the family man and the guy with a smile always on his face, Thomas Rhett belongs to a very large tightly-knit family. Both his parents divorced when he was a kid, with Thomas having a couple of stepsiblings from both his parents’ remarriages to other people. And with Thomas himself having three daughters with wife Lauren, I’m guessing things can be pretty chaotic at the Rhett household. Yet through all of this craziness, Thomas has stayed grounded, especially in his faith. And it definitely was his faith in Jesus that stirred something deep inside out him, culminating in the recording of “Be A Light” earlier this year. I reviewed the song, which you can read about here, and let me reiterate again and again- that this 5 artist collaboration is one of the most inspiring songs of this year, especially as we are in lockdown wondering when the world will be back to normal. And as Thomas eloquently declares that ‘…in a world full of hate, be a light, when you do somebody wrong, make it right, don’t hide in the dark, you were born to shine…’, we are reminded that even in the midst of trouble and trials, that there are still good people around. We can be one of those people with being a light in the darkness, with being the hands and feet of Jesus in a world where many don’t know Him at all. A simple kind word to someone can go a long way, so let us all do our bit and be kind to our neighbours and love them all like Jesus has first loved us.
With twelve of Rhett’s singles having received at least a Gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), with seven going Platinum, it’d be expected to see all of that success go to his head. But it hasn’t. and hopefully will never happen. Thomas is all about giving back, as he was an advisor for Team Kelly on The Voice in 2018 (advisors mentor young artists, right? I don’t know as there are no advisors on the Voice in Australia!), while he also guested on CMT Crossroads with Nick Jonas- it’s a program where country artists and pop artists share the stage for one night singing each other’s songs and bridging the genres so effortlessly, reminding us all that music is music no matter what it sounds like. There are plenty of awards and tours that Thomas has been linked to, while Thomas has also recorded a cover of Bruno Mars’ “When I Was Your Man”. Thomas also guested on other artist’s songs, bringing forth humility and comradery, as he sung with Danielle Bradbury (“Goodbye Summer”) and Brantley Gilbert (“Smalltown Throwdown”). Thomas also collaborated with pop sensation Kane Brown and rising pop/rock artist Ava Max for “On Me”, the theme song for the cartoon 2020 film SCOOB!; while Thomas’ last two albums were nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Country Album in 2017 and 2019. Thomas even recorded a Christmas song in “Christmas In The Country”- and perhaps that Christmas album will release this year? Yet to me the biggest stand Thomas has done, that has increased my respect for him, is to be featured on Chris Tomlin’s new worship album Chris Tomlin And Friends.
Now I’ve reviewed Chris’ new album recently- you can view it here; so I don’t really need to say much more about Thomas’ contributions that what you can already read in the review. But what I will say is this. That in each of the two songs that Thomas features in, you can tell that he’s making a statement to the world, and proud of it. It’s not cool nowadays to profess your love for Jesus when you’re in the spotlight in the world, yet Thomas is doing that with open arms by being associated with Chris Tomlin and this ground breaking project. For me, I believe that Thomas is indeed taking the biggest risk with both “Thank You Lord” and “God Who Listens”. As it is a risk to boldly and unashamedly say that you’re a Christian while at the top of your game music-wise. Could this backfire and Thomas be ostracised? Possible, maybe. But I firmly believe that after listening to these two emphatic and compelling songs, that Thomas isn’t concerned now with glory and glitz and glamour. Instead he’s more focused on changing the world, of that these songs have the potential in doing. “Thank You Lord” features Thomas Rhett belting out the first verse and the chorus and then equally popular country group Florida Georgia Line on the stirring and heartfelt second verse and then Chris Tomlin appearing in the bridge. While some die-hard country fans would probably ridicule and bag Thomas and FGL for their continuous release of ‘bro-country’ songs that are possibly bordering on mainstream pop (with FGL, I’m not that well-versed, but with Thomas, he does have some typical country songs, but also some heartfelt ballads!); there’s still no denying their hearts for Jesus, as all artists join together at the end for an epic danceable praise party. “Thank You Lord” is indeed quickly becoming one of my favourites of this year. But “God Who Listens” is just magical and on another level- one of my favourite duets of 2020. And here’s a fun fact that you probably never knew- that it was only “God Who Listens”, which released a few days ago, and a guitar led mid-tempo ballad, that was THE track that has made me a Thomas Rhett fan; as I respect him for being vocal for his faith (as once again Chris is only present from second verse onwards). This track showcases Thomas more as a singer and as a songwriter, with the duo relaying that God is a God who always listens to everything that we lay at His feet- and if Thomas can release more songs like this (maybe an all out worship album in the future), then that would definitely be an awesome thing!
Thomas Rhett is an enigma. He’s country, he’s pop, he’s R&B, he’s singing Christian music, and in everything he’s having a blast. He’s loved and he’s hated at the same time. Probably one of the most vulnerable and emotional artists I’ve heard from my blog series, Thomas’ discography is one that you all need to check out. Even if you don’t like country or pop or you detest the guitar or the synth… there will be something for everyone here, I can guarantee it! It doesn’t hurt that Thomas goes personal and is extremely relatable on many of his songs- reminding us all that superstars are human beings just like us. So what are you waiting for? Whether you resonate with “Die A Happy Man” or “God Who Listens” or even “Beer Can’t Fix”, Thomas’s knack for transforming simple melodies and cliché lyrics into literally gold, is impressive and remarkable. Is that reason enough to keep on following and supporting Thomas’ career, even if he’s not as country as we all thought and were made to believe? I know it is enough for me, but I guess it’s up to each of you to decide. So let us listen to probably one of the most divisive ‘country’ artists ever, and bask in the prowess of Thomas’ song-writing and singing. Bring on 2021 Thomas! Are any of you anticipating what Thomas’ 5th studio album would sound like? Yep, I am anticipating too!
Lauren: I’d always talked about adopting my whole life. My mom is actually adopted. I just thought it was really cool. And we had talked about it off and on, but it wasn’t something that we’d sat down and had a full-on adoption conversation.
I was in Uganda in 2016, and I had a picture of one of the babies there, and I had shared it on social media. And when I finally got to FaceTime (Thomas) that night, I was telling him her story, ‘Babe, we know so many people who are trying to adopt right now, and this little girl needs a forever home.’ I was so moved. The second I touched her, it was electric. I was like, ‘Oh, this little girl has just taken my heart.’ And I was like, ‘Honey, we’ve got to find her her forever home. Like, I know that’s why I’m here — to get this girl to her home.’
Thomas: When I talked to (Lauren) on the phone that night and she said that we need to find her a home … It was after a concert, and I was going to bed, and I was like, ‘Well, bring her home.’ And I don’t fully remember even saying it. It was such a spiritual thing for me that it just came out of my body. And literally two weeks after, we were having home assessments and talking to adoption agencies.
I think I got my first bit of validation from the same place most artists do, and that was from my friends and family. Every time I would go to a birthday party, or any time there was a family gathering at Christmas or Thanksgiving or whatever, everybody would ask me to play the guitar. So I think when your family thinks you’re good that means you have to be good, right? Either way, I guess I built up my confidence in those settings, to where I felt I could do this in front of other people.
Does Thomas Rhett make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Influential Artists of the next 5-10 years’ list? Is there any song (other than “Life Changes”, “Die A Happy Man”, “Marry Me”, “Remember You Young”, “Be A Light” and “Beer With Jesus”) that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far, or even your walk with God? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!