Big Machine Label Group LCC
Release Date: April 1st 2022
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- The Hill
- Church Boots
- Bass Pro Hat
- Anything Cold
- Half of Me (feat. Riley Green)
- Bring the Bar
- Death Row (feat. Tyler Hubbard & Russell Dickerson)
- Mama’s Front Door
- Slow Down Summer
- Simple as a Song
- Us Someday
- Somebody Like Me
- Where We Started (feat. Katy Perry)
Everyone knows Thomas Rhett. Or at least I reckon everyone should. One of the male vocalists within the realms of country music that I feel has been writing albums on a very consistent basis quality-wise ever since his debut album released in 2013; Thomas has been providing us songs of hope and encouragement, of solace and lament, as we see arguably one of country music’s most honest and relatable male artists over the last few years (alongside others like Luke Coombs, Chris Stapleton, Keith Urban & Tim McGraw, to name a few). Thomas has been within and around country music for a while- ever since his debut album in 2013, he’s been on a path at delivering chart-topping songs with a powerful message that people can relate to. A song like ‘Die a Happy Man’ reminded us that the love people have for each other in both a romantic and relationship capacity, as well as a friendship capacity, will amount to so much more than what material offerings can bring in this short, insurmountable life; while ‘Life Changes’ is a powerful reminder of how life, in every sense of the word, rolls along at a very fast pace, sometimes to the point where you may not even know yourself by the end of it. Life changing in a way that you don’t expect, may force us all to look within ourselves to see if there are things about us that we know we need to fix; before it’s too late for us to even try.
Thomas has always been the artist to work continuously at his craft- there’s always some song somewhere in his discography that people can relate to. He’s the artist that everyone, regardless of which music genre you affiliate to and enjoy, can find some song to call their own, so much so that we as a site decided to unveil a blog post about Thomas and his music that we wrote in 2020, as we detailed his storied and impactful career thus far, and reminded listeners why we thought his music was considered impactful and influential to people now, and in the upcoming years ahead. Since that time of writing that blog post, Thomas has been a very busy boy. He unveiled his 2021 album Country Again Side A, of which we reviewed on the site, while also unveiling standalone singles ‘Redneck Be Like’, ‘Things Dads Do’ and ‘Be a Light’, all of which were expounded along and written about for the site as well. It’s been a ride and a half for Thomas to come to this point, so on the heels of his highly successful Country Again Side A, Thomas has since unveiled another album in less than a year- Where We Started.
No, it’s not Country Again Side B, and I’m sure that’ll come later on either at the end of the year or next year, but this new album nonetheless is still emotive and poignant from Thomas- if you love his previous 2021 album, then I’m sure you’d appreciate this album as well. While the album stands at a whopping 15 tracks, Thomas’s album is a decent mix of pop and country melodies, of upbeat and reflective melodies, maybe even something for everyone, as this album features Thomas’s vocals at his best, as Where We Started reminds us about themes like standing up for beliefs, being candid and real about relationships, and realising we all need grace, forgiveness and mercy, themes universal and very much needed at this point in time in culture and society. While this album as a whole could unfortunately be slipped under the radar in favour of other country album releases this year, from artists like Miranda Lambert (Palomino), Hailey Whitters (Raised), Tenille Townes (Masquerades), Anne Wilson (My Jesus), Maren Morris (Humble Quest), The Shires (10 Year Plan) and Kiefer Sutherland (Bloor Street), Thomas’s latest is nevertheless an album that continues to showcase his prowess as a singer-songwriter, delivering powerful songs like ‘Death Row’, ‘The Hill’, ‘Church Boots’ and ‘Angels’ in the process. It may not necessarily be an album that people would remember (as much) once his career his said and done, nor may it even be an album that people could even remember much of, even at the end of the year. But that’s ok.
Listening to this album, you can’t help but admire Thomas’s craft, even if a few songs here and there (‘Church Boots’, ‘Death Row’, ‘Slow Down Summer’, ‘Angels’, ‘The Hill’) are the standouts on the album, and the rest fall into a seemingly unintentional blur by the time track 15 rolls around (that’s if you listen to the album straight through, instead of intentionally listen to certain songs from the track list) . It’s an album that has plenty of standout songs in general, but still doesn’t have the ‘wow’ factor that someone glues it all together and makes an album exactly that…an album. And that’s ok. Regardless, Thomas’s collection of tracks for this album are still challenging and heartfelt, and even if I myself preferred the album from 2021 over this, I do still admire Thomas’s vulnerability on the tracks that really feel haunting and refreshing. ‘Death Row’ is a gem to behold, while ‘Church Boots’ and ‘The Hill’s, though on the surface are happy-go-lucky ‘nothing’ songs, still possess messages and themes we as Christians, and we as humans living in this day and age, ought to take to heart and strive to excel at, in the upcoming weeks and months ahead.
Released as a radio single last year, ‘Slow Down Summer’ is the first single from Where We Started, and a track that is just as nuanced as it is emotive and compelling. On the surface, the track is about two lovers who spend a summer together (or two or three), and then realise that when high school ends and college (or in some states’ case, university) beginnings, they’ll have to move away, and either start a long-distance relationship, or end the relationship altogether- and thus the song enters this notion and understanding, to wish that summer doesn’t end, longing for it to be slowed down so that difficult decisions about people’s futures are not made, to stay in a ‘frozen-in-time’ moment as long as possible, so as not to make a decision soon, that may lead to heartbreak and a parting of ways that may or may not be brought back together somewhere or somehow down the line. It’s a song about growing up and realising that the idyllic version of what a summer romance could look like, isn’t necessarily what reality really is. That doesn’t mean that the romance meant nothing- maybe it can work long-distance. But ‘Slow Down Summer’ is a longing for things to stay the same as it is, and an unfortunate revelation that things never do. A song that is every little bit nostalgic as it is personable, in Thomas’s own words, we see how the song itself harkens back to his own romance-plagued days of youth- ‘…we kind of just related it to an emotion that I think a lot of us have been through of just getting out of high school or getting out of college, dating somebody and knowing you’ve got three months to maybe solidify this relationship or it’s not going to work. I was dating a girl [when I was a teenager] and she went to a different college than me. Right when school started, it was like, ‘We’re going different ways.’…’ It’s a bittersweet song about longing for things to be as it was, but ultimately being at peace with the ever-changing seasons and with it, the changes in relationships that come alongside it- for good or bad.
‘Angels’, ‘Church Boots’, ‘Us Someday’ and ‘Death Row’ are the four other pre-release songs that were unveiled by Thomas prior to the album release date, and with ‘Slow Down Summer’ being showcased as an upbeat melody complete with strings and a strong, driving piano foreground; the other 4 songs are much more mid-tempo/slower anthemic ballads. In fact, a fair bit of the album is reflective and ‘slow’; and is a perfect sequel melodically to Country Again Side A. ‘Us Someday’ is Thomas’s way of delivering an ode to his wife Lauren, reminding himself and others of how much of their relationship itself has been a wild rollercoaster; and how it’s something that is so crazy and wild, but still nevertheless worth it in the end. Shown in an excerpt of a songfacts article below, we see Thomas’s own motivation and inspiration behind ‘Us Someday’, and how ‘…Thomas Rhett first met his wife, Lauren, when they were first graders in Valdosta, Georgia. They briefly dated at 15 and although that initial attempt at a relationship didn’t work out, they remained close friends. Both had serious romances with other people in their late teens, and when Lauren and her boyfriend split, Thomas asked her out again. Within six months, they were engaged. This heartwarming song finds Rhett predicting their love story on the onset of their romantic relationship. He released “Us Someday” as a single from Where We Started on February 11, 2022. Rhett wrote the song [Us Someday] with his father, Rhett Akins, and with Jesse Frasure and Amy Wadge. He said he penned it from the perspective of his 19-year-old-self telling Lauren, “I know you think this is crazy, but I believe all of these things are going to happen for us.” Rhett added that most of the things he foretells, such as marriage, kids, and family road trips, actually happened, “which is just the wildest thing.”…’ ‘Us Someday’ reminds us all, that life itself isn’t necessarily linear- things that doesn’t necessarily work out first time around, doesn’t mean that the outcome of that particular situation wasn’t meant to be. ‘Angels’ is a thanksgiving song if there ever was any on the album- a reminder that the ones who stick by you and support you in your own dreams, all the while acknowledging when and if your dreams are at the detriment of your own health, and theirs, are people in your life, you should keep. Referring primarily to his wife in the song, we see how much sacrifice she has put in for Thomas, put up with his antics and travelled alongside him down this often-lonely road of the musician’s life, something that many partners and spouses don’t necessarily stick around for. But the song itself is applicable for anyone who supports us in our life, be it family or friends. It’s a song about being redeemed by grace again and again in our lives, even though we know that we don’t necessarily deserve it. To stick with someone through their shortcomings and hangups means to have boldness and forgiveness to do so, things that people, on the whole, are in short supply…meaning that metaphorically, these people who sacrifice so much for us, aren’t really people at all…they’re angels in disguise.
‘Church Boots’ is a toe-tapping songs about consistency in life, and how in Thomas’s life, his church boots are his work boots. What that means can be two fold- it can be seen as literal, and how he doesn’t believe in being ‘fancy’ or dressed up for certain occasions, that ‘what you see is what you get’; or if we look a little deeper, the meaning of ‘Church Boots’ ought to hit us a little more once we realise another layered meaning to it all. The song itself is a reminder for us to be the same at work as we are in church, as we are in the home, and not just in a physical sense. Who are we as people in these settings? Are we congruent in our own beliefs, and do we act the same, believe the same, and treat people the same, in these various settings? Do we practise what we preach, and are we the same behind closed doors, as we are when we’re declaring who we are to the people around us? I guess that’s the meaning behind ‘Church Boots’, to advocate and champion authenticity and honesty, to challenge us all to be consistent in what we believe and value, and to make sure what we’re doing is not just for show. Then there’s the last remaining pre-release song in ‘Death Row’, a track that is the song to check out if there’s only one to listen to on this album. Yes, this is the one, and in fact, this track is one of my favourites out of every song released this year thus far. It’s a hard-hitting song about grace and forgiveness, and in the words of Thomas himself, it’s one of hope and reconciliation as well- ‘…it was around Christmastime about two years ago, and he [Al Andrews from Porter’s Call] will take some people bimonthly to the prison to just talk or read scriptures — or in our case, playing some songs for them. We talked with them about turkey hunting and Tennessee, college football and country music, for about a good 30 minutes…that just broke my heart [seeing people chained to the ground and others who hadn’t seen grass in years]. It really opened my eyes. I’ve made mistakes in my life, too, but they made a mistake that is pretty hard to forgive. I knew the song would be controversial, and there are people out there who have lost loved ones to someone who is now serving time on death row. But at the same time, I do think there is room for forgiveness. If I’m teaching my kids to forgive, then how could I judge people? That’s not my job. There’s just things in life that are left up to God, and that’s one of them. I was just trying to portray that in a country song…I never thought about putting it [Death Row] on the album. For me, it was just a therapy session, and the only way I knew how to put into words what that day meant. I sent the song to Tyler and Russell mainly for their approval. I wanted to kind of fact-check myself and make sure I was saying what happened that day the way they saw it happen as well…it wouldn’t be a song without Tyler and Russell on it. They put their vocals on it and I’m so grateful they are part of it…’ Well done Thomas for this gem of a song, and a track that can hopefully change lives and be used by the Lord as the upcoming weeks, months, and years progress.
Throughout the rest of the album, Thomas continues to deliver songs of hope and encouragement, albeit not as ‘heavy’ as ‘Death Row’ for a change (and that’s a very good thing). ‘The Hill’ is an acoustically driven melody that allows us to ask this of ourselves- what are we willing to believe in, to the point where we say, ‘this is the hill I’m willing to die on?’ (in a metaphorical sense) Because as this song says, not all battles are worth it, and just because we may believe something different than someone else, or we may have a different opinion about something, doesn’t mean we have to ‘die on that hill’ and argue our point for the sake of arguing and ‘proving’ that we’re right. ‘Bass Pro Hat’ showcases this understanding and notion of what really constitutes to having a good time- that what people may perceive to be a good time to them (at the beach, sunny, out and about) will mean something entirely different to other people- in Thomas’s case, having a good time is something much simpler: having a bass pro hat and enjoying the other’s company, understanding that even though they ‘…ain’t got a lot, but we got it made, steady fallin’ like a springtime rain, sweet tea slow goin’ nowhere fast, might sound crazy but we like it like that…’ Thomas also delivers ‘Anything Cold’, a fun, up-tempo song about being easy-going in life and not letting choices phase us- in this song, it’s about being relaxed in saying that you want anything cold from the esky cooler and not having any specific preference to the point where that preference (or thing) is all you want; while ‘Half of Me’, a duet with Riley Green, tries to poke a touch-in-cheek reference to people’s over-reliance on having a ‘cold one’ every so often, as this song takes the mickey out of the culture of having a beer in almost every circumstance and situation that comes our way.
‘Bring The Bar’ speaks about the overratedness of going out and going to clubs and bars, as the persona in the song states that they can ‘bring the bar’ over to the other person’s place, that they can have a night in, and still enjoy themselves as they ‘recreate’ the atmosphere of a bar outside; while ‘Paradise’ speaks about how when Thomas looks at his wife and loves on her in the most simplest of ways, that is what paradise is to him. Nothing super grandiose or out-of-the box, but rather, paradise in the way that reminds us that you don’t necessarily have to go ‘all out’ for the other person to feel as though they are in paradise- often your presence in that moment is enough. ‘Mama’s Front Door’ is a very nostalgic song depicting a timeline of Thomas’s and Lauren’s relationship and stages of life, through the lens of walking up to the door of his mother-in-law’s place, and depicting his emotions through all the verses of the song (thereby reminding us all that often the same place can evoke different things depending on the stage of life that you’re in), while ‘Love Me Like a Song’ shows us the sacredness of love itself, and how to love someone, is to give yourself away in every sense of the word. The song shows us a persona who longs for ‘the real thing’ with someone else- nothing plastic or fake; but love that echo something that Johnny and June from Walk the Line would have.
The album then rounds out with ‘Somebody Like Me’ and album-ender ‘Where We Started’ (a duet with pop icon Katy Perry), the former is a fun, tongue-in-cheek song about what people look for in a partner, and that sometimes people long for something in someone else, that compliments their own character (i.e.: somebody like themselves), while the latter is a motivational song about looking forward beyond your circumstance to what lies ahead, having confidence that where we started to where we are now, is enough to keep us going as we continue to run this race called life to its completion. Or in a blunter sense, it’s really about keeping our eyes fixed upon Christ, the author, and Perfector of our Faith. To remember all the times He has sustained us, and gotten us through the times we’ve lived, and allow that to encourage us to keep going through the difficult times we may experience, even now as we are in this broken, messed up world full of chaos and calamity. It’s a song about perspective, and a great way to end an album that has a tremendous amount of it.
While upon first listen to the album way back when it released (around a month ago) I felt as though the album didn’t have much to offer, now I stand corrected upon reviewing it. Where We Started is a deeply personal album release by Thomas, something brought on by both COVID-19 and the introspection that comes along with it, along with how country music in and of itself is by nature heartfelt, compelling, and introspective. Thomas himself writes music with his heart on his sleeve, and that’s nothing less on this album. While some songs are joyous and playful (‘Half of Me’, ‘Bass Pro Hat’, ‘Somebody Like Me’), others are much more emotive (‘Slow Down Summer’, ‘Death Row’, ‘The Hill’, ‘Church Boots’), and it’s this good mix of musical styles on this album, that plays to Thomas’s strength, not only on this album, but throughout much of his discography of yesteryear. And while this album may still ‘fall by the wayside’ in terms of initial pull, compared to other country albums by Miranda Lambert, Hailey Whitters, Kiefer Sutherland, The Shires and Maren Morris (to name a few); we need only to look past all of the initial ‘sameness’ one could feel when hearing this album for the first time, to get to the nuggets of gold, as this album, if given a chance, has a lot to say (just like any Thomas Rhett album, anyway). An album to enjoy and cherish if you’ve been a fan of Thomas’s previous material, or other artists like Keith Urban, Florida Georgia Line, or even Chris Tomlin; Where We Started challenges us to live life to the full, not taking the seasons for granted, and being content to be where we are in life, letting life’s circumstances be used by the Lord, so that He can mould and shape us into people who are much more empathetic and considerate of people other than ourselves. An album that can remind us to always keep our family and friends first; well done Thomas for this emotive and enjoyable album. Looking forward to what the Lord has in store for this collection of songs, in the upcoming months ahead.
5 songs to listen to: Death Row, Slow Down Summer, Angels, The Hill, Church Boots
RIYL: Blake Shelton, Florida Georgia Line, Chris Tomlin, Keith Urban