Thomas Rhett – Country Again: Side A

Big Machine Label Group

Release Date: April 30th 2021

Reviewed by: Joshua Andre

Thomas Rhett– Country Again: Side A (Amazon mp3/iTunes)

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

Country music hasn’t always been my go-to music. As far back as I can remember, I had been immersed (and I mean really immersed!) in CCM- and it was only until last year that I really, fully and actively branched out into listening to other types of music- in essence when I started to blog about up and coming influential artists. Now one of the genres that I have really found to resonate with over the past year and a half (essentially since COVID-19 and since we’ve all had a lot more time on our hands!) is in fact country music (10 of the 32 artists I’ve written about thus far are in fact country artists)…and you can read any number of country reviews I’ve written in the past. While lockdown and quarantine (our family voluntarily went into self-quarantine all of April last year!) was indeed a challenge and something that I needed to adjust to; what I did find was my musical tastes expanding beyond the confines of CCM and worship. Not that Christian music is bad, but if you limit God to only speaking through the obvious overt melodies about and to Jesus… then I guess you’ll miss out on all of the ways God chooses to speak to us via different avenues. Over the past few years, I found myself drawn to different genres of music apart from CCM, and in particular the country music genre… but it’s only been during this past year that I’ve been immersed the most in the genre of country music. This year I’ve made more of an effort to check out country albums (even though I’m not American and don’t really understand some of the country traditions that are referenced in most country songs!), including albums from Carrie Underwood (My Savior) and Florida Georgia Line (Life Rolls On); yet for me the latest album from Thomas Rhett (Country Again: Side A) is a collection of vulnerable, emotional, personal, relatable and inspiring songs- with the album being one of the most impressive and standout albums of the year thus far (alongside albums from Demi Lovato, MercyMe, Jon Foreman and Pentatonix!).

I think the word ‘country’ can mean a million things, and for me, the word ‘country’ means simple — that would be my favorite synonym for the word. With the year that we had in 2020, I think a lot of us were forced to not do what we do for a living and forced to slow down, and really forced to recognize, ‘What are your blessings in life? And what are you grateful for?

And for me, that was the outdoors. That was getting outside again: going fishing again, going out hunting again, going out West and hiking with my family. Those are the things that I used to love to do so much, and then life just kind of got in the way. I think a lot of this has just been grinding without realizing how hard we’re actually working.

Over the last three records — which I’m beyond proud of … but there’s always been someone in my sights that I was kind of following … Like, in the last few years, it was like, ‘How do I make my show cooler than Bruno Mars’ show?’ Or, ‘How do I make this record feel like [Chris] Stapleton meets Justin Timberlake?’. And finally, this year … I just started to sit down with a guitar and I was just like, ‘What do I want to write? … What makes me happy to say?’ And it took a lot of the weight off my shoulders.

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!

Taken verbatim from my Momentous Mondays blog about Thomas way back last year; let me just say that back then when I was blogging about Thomas, he was pretty polarising, even though I myself resonated with a fair chunk of his discography. Even now Thomas is pretty much still creating buzz and criticism from a lot of critics and listeners… but let me say that Country Again: Side A is as country as you can get- and an album that I’m sure country fans will love, as well as newer fans of Thomas’s pop and R&B. Unlike Florida Georgia Line’s Life Rolls On which was just… you know just kind of meh!; Country Again: Side A has layers upon layers upon layers of authentic songwriting and emotion… so what are you waiting for? Are you ready to be impressed and wowed?

Album opener “Want It Again” sets the tone musically for the entire album, as the acoustic guitar led slower-tempo ballad presents us with a failed teenage relationship, and then Thomas singing as the persona wanting the ex to remember him for when sometime in the future they choose to get back together, and also declaring ‘…I’ll put this heart of mine somewhere good and safe in case you want it again someday…’. It isn’t known whether Thomas is singing about his relationship with his wife when they were teenagers or about a story from a friend, or something completely made up… but nonetheless, the track packs a punch and eloquently reminds us to never despair if things don’t go our way at this very moment- because God’s timing which is higher than our own… is always the best timing. The next track “Growing Up”, with a catchy and hard-hitting mandolin present for variety, speaks about exactly that- growing up, and presents us with a more mature sound from Thomas, as he emphatically relays to us that philosophical rants and inner monologues and thoughts, crying out that ‘…guess you get a little older, get a little wiser, a little more turn that cheek, little less what I want, and more what I need these days, I still get a little crazy, in a lot of ways, I’m still the kid I was; just a little less Jack in my cup, oh, I guess I’m growing up…’. It’s one of the standouts from the album, and hopefully will earn Thomas the respect of some critics who thought he was moving into pop or giving the country a bad genre a bad name!

The rest of Country Again: Side A continues to impact and inspire, as Thomas delivers songs full of honesty, emotion and relevance. The 3 minute sentimental “Where We Grew Up” dives deep into Thomas’s childhood and his pride of growing up in his hometown, of growing up ‘…on country music, baseball diamonds, findin’ us a fishin’ hole; them Sunday mornin’ sermons, tailgate learnin’, sippin’ on somethin’ cold, they born and raised us on faith, hope, and love, and made dang sure we were dang sure proud of where we grew up…’; while the in-your-face no-nonsense heartfelt and layered “To The Guys Who Date My Girls” is both a friendly advice kind of song directed to the guys who will date Thomas’s daughters in the future, as well as a warning type of track of ‘don’t you break your heart because I’m here and I’ll be coming for you’. A reflective ballad that every young single male needs to listen to, we are reminded of the love that we all should have for our kids and that same love yet infinitely more that God has for each one of us.

The serious-but-not 3 minute tune “More Fishin’” (complete with a fiddle!) reminds us to live life to the fullest, and not just go through the motions of a mundane life, that ‘…you can spend your whole life tryin’ to make a killin’, but what’s it all worth without a little livin’? Don’t wanna look back at all the things I’m missing, and wake up wishin’ I spend more time fishin’…’, and is essentially challenging us to live a life of no regrets; while the introspective title track speaks about Thomas coming back to his roots, and how good it feels to ‘be country again’- a metaphor for being true and authentic to yourself. It’s a song that resonates with me even though I’m not American- is that funny and weird or is God speaking to me about standing for what I believe in even if others don’t agree with me? Or perhaps I’m looking deep into this track?

An album isn’t an album without some downers, and Thomas Rhett has a couple unfortunately. “Put It On Ice”, a party song with guest vocal Hardy, is uncomfortable and cringeworthy, and sings about nothing that deep (and let’s just leave it at that… because why don’t we pretend that this song doesn’t exist!); yet “What’s Your Country Song”, the album’s lead single, though objectively smart and inventive, falls flat. “What’s Your Country Song” has no story behind it, sad to say, and doesn’t have me feeling anything at all. I wish that this song would’ve connected with me, but with a track that just lists out famous country songs with no real order and rhyme and reason- and no connection between lines… well that’s just plain lazy writing. Yes the song is catchy, and yes I’m still a Thomas Rhett fan- but if I wanted to hear a song with popular song titles name-dropped; it’d have to have a purpose like Lauren Alaina’s “Ladies’ In The 90’s”. Sorry to say it guys, but “What’s your Country Song” is only fit for background music only. And nothing much else. And can somebody please tell me why did the song took 5 songwriters?

“Blame It On The Backroad”, a weird song when you look at the lyrics, speaks about when the persona wants to go off on their own to reflect, and them justifying their actions to everyone around them. It’s a song that indirectly challenges us on which method is the best way to reflect on our own, and to ruminate upon the good times and the bad times; and a method that doesn’t worry our friends and family. “Ya Heard” the album closer, is a prayer of gratitude and thanks to Jesus, as Thomas thanks him for his wife, for his children and for his success as a singer and a musician; however it is the thought-provoking, emotional and heartbreaking “Heaven Right Now” that is THE song to listen to off Country Again: Side A! With the song being inspired by a friend’s death, this song needs no ‘analysis’ as I present the story behind the song below as well as the lyrics of the track- listen along and be moved and drawn to Jesus!

They [Hunter and Lauren] were like brother and sister. So once I started hanging around Lauren’s family, I got to become really close with Hunter, and he passed away about nine years ago [in a rope swing accident, where he fell into a valley, hit his head on rocks and was pronounced dead at the scene].

I’ve worn this bracelet that’s got his initials on it for almost nine years, and my wife is the same. Every time I look down at my wrist, I’m just reminded of his smile, and how infectious of a personality he had. Like, [he was] somebody that he’d walk in the room and just brighten any situation.

I’ve just noticed that he’s still here in spirit. So this song is kind of written from the perspective of, like, ‘You know, life is still moving on pretty usual down here. A lot of things have changed, but [I’m] still just kinda doing life,’ and wondering what he’s doing, because it’s probably way cooler than anything we’re doing down here.

I’d actually never written a song about it ever. [I’d] never really written much about loss, to tell you the truth. Hunter was one of the closest friends I’ve ever had that passed.

[Heaven Right Now…it’s] just a song I thought could potentially give some encouragement and hope to some people that have lost really close people in their lives…and that reassurance that they are gonna see them again one day, and it’s gonna be awesome.

[Verse 1]
The fish are finally bitin’ at the cut out on the Caney
Your daddy’s still fixin’ motors and a good guy married Macy
It’s still a religion ’round here
Yeah, we crack a cold beer and raise ’em up
To every Tennessee touchdown
I wonder what you’re doin’ in heaven right now

[Verse 2]
They still ain’t paved that road, on Lower Lickton Pike
I still look for your truck sometimes at Sonic on Friday Night
I still punch the dashboard hurts
Every time I hear Eric Church
Sing “Sinners Like Me”, I crank it up real loud
I wonder what you’re doin’ in heaven right now

[Chorus]
Are you fishin’?
Are you flyin’?
How much greener is the grass?
Are you older?
Are you younger?
Or did time stop in its tracks?
Anyway, thought I’d say, “hey”
I just made my way past your momma’s house
I wonder what you’re doin’ in heaven right now, mmm

[Verse 3]
I still play this old guitar, but the crowds have gotten bigger
My kids have never met you, but they all know you from pictures
When the whole crew gets together
Memory lane goes on forever
We twist a top and pour a little Jack D out
I wonder what you’re doin’ in heaven right now

[Chorus]
Are you fishin’?
Are you flyin’?
How much greener is the grass?
Are you older?
Are you younger?
Have you met Johnny Cash?
Anyway, thought I’d say, “hey”
It’s getting late
And I’m puttin’ these babies down
I wonder what you’re doin’ in heaven right now

[Post-Chorus]
Yeah
I wonder what you’re doin’ in heaven right now, mmm
Yeah

[Verse 4]
Yeah, Lauren still wears your bracelet and people still ask about it
It’s been everywhere I’ve been
‘Cause I don’t go, nowhere without it
Yeah, I missed church last week
Could you put in a word for me?
If you and God get to hangin; out
I look forward to catchin’ up when my time comes around

 [Outro]
I wonder what you’re doin’ in heaven right now (Heaven right now)
I wonder what you’re doin’ in heaven right now (Heaven right now)
I wonder what you’re doin’ in heaven right now (Heaven right now)
Heaven right now

Lyrics Of “Heaven Right Now”

Thomas Rhett is still one of the most polarising acts in country music. I blogged about him a while back, and the consensus amongst the public is still divided. Is he pop? Is he country? Is he a faker and a poser, or is he the real deal? A number of songs that Thomas has released over the years, inclusive of “Die A Happy Man” and “Life Changes”, have resonated with me and have hit my soul on a very deep level- basically because of the deep meaning and the story behind the songs that is so personal to him. Even Thomas’s duet with Chris Tomlin – “God Who Listens” – and the 5 artist collaboration and inspirational tune “Be A Light” are both hopeful and poignant- and well worth the spins. Yet Country Again: Side A takes Thomas’s songwriting craft and his delivery of such personal and emotional messages to yet another level, and has me respecting him all the more. Songs like “Ya Heard”, the title track, “Where We Grew Up” and the poignant and moving “Heaven Right Now” showcase Thomas as a current and future star- and no doubt this project will be one of my favourites of the year come December time. Thomas Rhett’s new album isn’t indicative at all of the feeble effort of the underwhelming “What’s Your Country Song”. And so apart from that hiccup, Country Again: Side A soars and makes me want to feel… country- even though I’m not American! So how about all of you? How does this project resonate with you? Remember, Side B is coming later on this year… so let us be immersed in some Thomas Rhett– and marvel at one of today’s most popular country acts and God working through him!

I do think that on “Side B,” you will find a couple of songs on there that you can tell your friends about that don’t listen to country music. But for the most part, I think it’s more just a continuation of this project. The whole reason that I split up the records in the first place was just that I really wanted people to be able to sit with one side for a couple of months until they got the next side. I didn’t want to just put 26 songs out, or 24, or however many songs we’re going to put out by the time we have “Side B.” We haven’t decided the exact number yet, but I didn’t want to inundate people with that much music and have them pick their four or five favorites and leave the rest of them in the dust. I wanted people to be able to listen to 11 all the way down, and then listen to the second one, and then be able to put them together and understand the whole story of this record. That was my initial thought about why I wanted to split up the double album.

It also gives us time to like really hone in “Side B” as well. Because we have the songs. Seeing how people take “Side A,” I think, will help determine sequencing, and (determine) “Are there two on there that don’t need to be?” Or “Have we not cut enough songs yet?” Or “Okay, people are really gravitating towards tracks one, five and seven on ‘Side A,’ so maybe these are the right fit for ‘Side B.’” So it does give us a little bit of time to really hone in on “Side B” and hopefully make it as great as “Side A” is.

3 songs to listen to: Heaven Right Now, Country Again, Ya Heard

Score: 4.5/5

RIYL: Dan + Shay, Florida Georgia Line, Chris Tomlin, Hunter Hayes, MercyMe, Danny Gokey

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