cmt.com — The day before Thomas Rhett‘s Life Changes album was released, he tweeted, “These 14 songs represent who I am today, I hope you can find yourself in each of them.”
And when I sat down with him before the final show of his release-day adventure on Friday (Sept. 8), we talked about finding yourself in songs. His hope is that his fans will be able to relate to all the songs, from the nostalgic ballad “Sixteen” and the Alabama-esque “Drink a Little Beer,” to the heartland rocker “Renegades” and the hopelessly romantic and retro “Sweetheart.”
“All of us artists are a little ADD in a strange way,” Rhett told me. “We all like to try new things and push that boundary. And when you do push that boundary and the stars align and it just clicks with fans, it’s a really special feeling. And I think that’s what we have with this record.”
As confident as Rhett was about releasing what is essentially a kind of mix tape, he was never 100 percent positive that all of this music would work.
“I think that’s the biggest fear of putting this record out. You don’t know what’s gonna work, you don’t know what’s not gonna work,” he said. But what he did know was that getting to know his fans up close and personal made him almost certain that if he was digging the songs, so would they.
“Getting to see my fans face to face, meeting them, and observing them when we play all kinds of pre-roll music made me feel like we’re all on the same level. We grew up at the same time, and we listen to a ton of different kinds of music. So if I can make a record that would make me want to listen to it, then hopefully you can listen to it at whatever stage of life you’re in.
“I’ve lived through all these experiences, and been influenced by so many different things, that I hope my fans have come along with me on this journey. Even if they didn’t know about certain eras of music, maybe this music makes them want to dive in back into that.”
And it sounds like Rhett was almost adamant that he didn’t want to keep making the same record over and over.
“Watching my fave artists — like Bruno Mars — from record one until now, it’s worlds apart,” he said.
“But I bought into him as an artist. Just like I bought into Luke Bryan as an artist. And I bought into George Strait as an artist. I think that when you believe in the person, you just kind of go with him. If they want to try something different, they try something different. It may not be your favorite thing in the world, but you’re still like, ‘I like that person.’”
cmt.com — “We obviously saved the best for last.”
That’s what Thomas Rhett told the sold-out Chicago crowd on Friday night (Sept. 8) the minute he took the stage for the third and final “Live From the B-Stage” release-day show. He’d been to Boston and Philadelphia earlier that day, then came to Joe’s Live just north of Chicago to wrap up the day of new music.
Although he didn’t just play the new stuff from his new album Life Changes, because he said that as a fan, he would hate that.
“We’re not gonna do that thing. When I saw artists I loved and they didn’t play (their big hit), I’d be so pissed,” Rhett said.
Instead, he played a mix of older hits and new tunes, and because the setting was more like the B-Stage at his arena shows, he was able to share the stories behind so many of his songs.
Before “Die a Happy Man,” the highest-charting single on his 2015 album Tangled Up, Rhett explained how it came from a writing session right before a date on Jason Aldean’s Night Train Tour.
“We were on the bus in Arkansas, opening for Jason Aldean, and the first song we wrote that day was ‘Die a Happy Man,’” he said of the song he wrote with Sean Douglas and Joe Spargur. “And it was at a point in the show where I just wanted to change it up. So I was like, ‘Well, we wrote this song today, and we’re gonna put it in our set tonight.’ And the writers were like, ‘You don’t even know the words.’”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said he told them before taking the stage in Little Rock and playing what he called a very botched version of the song. “I had no idea that song would do what it did.”
He also answered fan questions, one of which was about how nervous he was to release the new album. Rhett admitted he was very nervous, but that hearing the crowd sing all the words to the songs they’d only been hearing for one day — like “Unforgettable,” “Sixteen,” “Grave” and “Drink a Little Beer” — assuaged any anxieties he’d had.
“When you’re making a record, for me, I want it to sound completely different from the last one. All my favorite artists never make records that sound the same,” he said.
billboard.com — Country singer Thomas Rhett is aiming for his first No. 1 on the Billboard 200 albums chart, according to industry forecasters. Those in the know suggest this new set, Life Changes, could launch with a little more than 100,000 equivalent album units earned in the week ending Sept. 14. Further, if Rhett starts at No. 1, it will give the country genre its first chart topper in 2017.
Life Changes was released on Sept. 8 through Valory Records and is Rhett’s third full-length studio effort.
The Billboard 200 chart ranks the most popular albums of the week based on multi-metric consumption, which includes traditional album sales, track equivalent albums (TEA) and streaming equivalent albums (SEA). The top 10 of the new Sept. 30-dated Billboard 200 chart (where Rhett will debut) is scheduled to be revealed on Billboard’s websites on Sunday, Sept. 17.
So far in 2017, no country title has led the Billboard 200, and the last country effort to do so was Jason Aldean’s They Don’t Know on the Oct. 1, 2016-dated tally. (Further, Aldean had the only country title to lead the list in 2016.) Rhett has never previously hit No. 1, having twice peaked at No. 6 with It Goes Like This in 2013 and Tangled Up in 2015.
Rhett will likely lead a busy Billboard 200 next week, as a bevy of new albums are on course for high debuts. (That’s in stark contrast to the current list, where LCD Soundsystem’s chart topping American Dream was the only title to start in the top 10.) Aside from Rhett, watch for high bows from The National’s Sleep Well Beast (with perhaps 60,000 units), Jack Johnson’s All The Light Above It Too (45,000 units), Dustin Lynch’s Current Mood (over 30,000), Gregg Allman’s Southern Blood and Kip Moore’s Slowheart (both with over 20,000).
thepostathens.com — Thomas Rhett has had a hell of a year, and it served as inspiration for his latest album Life Changes.
Rhett hit the country music scene in 2013 with his debut album, It Goes Like This, and produced three No. 1 hits. With a successful entry into the world of country music, his second album, Tangled, was highly anticipated — and topped the previous, earning him four No. 1s.
The superstar-level singer released his third studio album Life Changes Sept. 8.
With bro-country dominating the country airwaves, Rhett tries his hand at blending the pop vibes with more traditional sounds. This isn’t his first attempt at merging the two sounds. Off his second album, Rhett produced two vastly different songs: “Die A Happy Man” and “Vacation.”
On Life Changes, the slow versed “Marry Me” and the EDM-infused “Leave Right Now” are back-to-back tracks and could not differ more. “Marry Me” captures the insufferable feeling of watching the love of your life marry someone else. Though “Leave Right Now” is lyrically a treat, the beat feels out of place on the album. It strays too far from the staples of country music sound.
Songs like the upbeat “Unforgettable,” feel good “Sixteen” and sway-inducing “Sweetheart” focus more on storytelling, which is what makes country music so great. Those are the songs that make you want to roll down your windows and drive down two-lane roads through rolling hills and backroads.
His most inherently country song “Drink A Little Beer” features his dad Rhett Akins, a 90s country singer known for his song “That Ain’t My Truck.” The song is an upbeat, honky-tonk jam that could be heard in every country dive bar in America.
The title track is one of the best songs on the album and captures the bare bones of the album. It dives into the changes people experience all through life and brings his own love Lauren Akins into the song. It’s all about his wife, adopted child Willa Gray and newborn daughter Ada James. Anyone who knows the family will get all of the references in the song, but it’s not necessary to enjoy the song. Anyone who has experienced plenty of positive in life will relate.
The 14-track album is a great follow up to Tangled. With everything Rhett encountered in the past year, Life Changes keeps fans interested in his music and life. With the exception of a few pop-infused tunes, the album is solid and succeeds lyrically. Rhett is on his way to cranking out more hits from Life Changes.
variety.com — If you took Brad Paisley’s voice and amiability, axed (almost) all of the traditional country and goofy humor, and replaced those with some sharp Top 40 radio instincts, you’d have Rhett. The 27-year-old upstart pumps out singles that sound like they should be pop hits, even as his label makes little or no attempt to actually cross him over. If that sounds like the lead-in to some kind of pro-traditionalist dis, it’s not; Rhett is the kind of guy who could give country-pop a good name again.
Rhett is on a rare trajectory in a genre that typically moves slow as molasses in generating new superstars. He graduated to arena headliner status even before releasing his third album, “Life Changes,” which certainly won’t put any stall in that ascent. What the songs may tend to lack in depth, they make up in breadth, with each track occupying a slightly different subgenre than the last, united only in the breezy consistency of their craft.
Want some Chainsmokers Lite in your country diet? Try “Leave Right Now,” a pickup song that shows Nashville is hardly immune to copping a little bit of an EDM feel. Looking for something less dubstep and more doo-wop? “Sweetheart” has a back-to-the-1950s chorus. Somewhat more predictably, “Renegades” brings the heartland rock influence that’s been country’s bread and butter for a while. But if your nostalgia runs more toward Barry White than Johnny Cougar, “Kiss Me Like a Stranger” evokes gentle 1970s R&B bedroom balladry. (On tour, Rhett brings a horn section along to reinforce that old-school R&B feel, though he leaves it behind here.)
And if you want to talk about serious variety, Rhett even includes a kind of bro-country song, “Drink a Little Beer,” a chance to duet with… no, not a bro, per se, but his songwriter dad, Rhett Akins. More than that reverse nepotism, it’s a chance to prove that he can play the redneck if he wants to. Actual country music is just one more arrow in Rhett’s quiver, as it turns out.
The mature side of country is something Rhett can pull off, too, if he sets his mind to it, which he doesn’t very often. “Marry Me” is a nice attempt at a sad-sack ballad from a guy who’s been friend-zoned all the way to tearfully sitting on the bride’s side at a wedding. It’s the kind of thing you’d like to encourage Rhett to do more of… if he weren’t so good at borderline pop bubblegum like “Unforgettable,” wherein the singer remembers the moment he bonded with his girl over a Coldplay song.
That ear candy continues with “Craving You,” a semi-rocking smash that benefits from an energized Maren Morris backing vocal (even if it’s false advertising to bill it as a duet). And the album is at its poppiest as well as best with “Smooth Like the Summer,” which ought to be the song of the season for heartland teens. (The song of summer 2018, that is, since his label didn’t get it out in time for the one just past.) The fact that there isn’t a lot brewing under the surface of these tunes isn’t a huge damper. Agreeability isn’t everything, but Rhett makes it count for a lot.
Producers: Rhett, Julian Bunetta, Jesse Frasure, Dann Huff, Joe London
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