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Thomas RhettAlbum Review - Thomas Rhett: Center Point Road

Few singers have played a larger role in defining the sound of country music over the past half-dozen years than Thomas Rhett, the honey-smooth Georgia crooner whose last several records conjure Bruno Mars more than Brooks & Dunn. Rhett has set the parameters of tasteful bro-country (“It Goes Like This,” “T-Shirt”), self-mythologized his own autobiography (“Die a Happy Man,” “Life Changes”), and mastered the art of the country-pop come-on (“Marry Me,” “Make Me Wanna”), resulting in a staggering dozen Number One hits at country radio.

On his sprawling fourth album Center Point Road, he’s an everyman charmer, Nashville-style, expanding his palette as he assumes the role of country music jack of all trades. Apart from the requisite R&B-lite jams and slow-dance swooners, Rhett offers his own version of the old-fashioned booze homage (“Beer Can’t Fix,” featuring Jon Pardi), pop-pandering Maroon 5 pastiche (“Notice”),  wedding dance-floor rousers (“Look What God Gave Her,” “Up”), and Kenny Chesney-indebted beach bum escapism (“Sand,” “Barefoot”).

The most affecting songs on Rhett’s latest, however, find the singer meditating on adolescence and aging, another one of his favorite themes. And yet, unlike past middle-of-the-road honky-tonk nostalgia like “Unforgettable” (with its unforgettable imagery: “That Mang-O-Rita you were drinkin’/And that Coldplay song that you were singing’”), there’s a newfound depth and seriousness to songs like the Kelsea Ballerini-assisted title track and “Remember You Young.” Chalk it up to the symbolic fatalism of Rhett, 29, staring down his thirties, which he seems to have used as a masterful occasion in reflecting on a decade-plus of endless-summer misadventure when “Friday night was everything.” “We wrote our own destiny,” he sings on the power-ballad title track, “in parking lots and empty streets.”

To his credit, Rhett never delves into self-seriousness for more than a song at a time. More able to take risks than ever before, he throws out a number of curveballs here. Case in point: “VHS,” in which the singer fabricates a forced summer slogan (“Very Hot Summer?”) out of thin air. But there are surprisingly few missteps on this 16-song collection, an album that hammers home one of the great paradoxes of the superstar’s career: the more flexible and daring Rhett gets with his pop flirtations, the more the singer finds himself at the very center of commercial country.

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Maddie and TaeAlbum Review - Maddie & Tae: One Heart To Another

Though merely 23-years-old, the duo of Maddie & Tae possess a maturity beyond their years. They proved this with their bold and honest portrayal of the objectification of women in the “bro-country” era of country music with their powerful debut single “Girl in a Country Song” in 2014, which they wrote when most people their age were graduating high school. With their new EP One Heart to Another, the duo of Maddie Marlow and Taylor Dye prove they’re just as insightful, this time drawing from personal heartache while capturing a sense of vulnerability that’s seeped into the five-song project.

You feel this in the poignant “Die From a Broken Heart,” as they let the listener in on an intimate conversation with their mothers, asking her for life advice ranging from how to get a wine stain out of one’s favorite dress to wondering if you can go blind from crying in the dark, conveying the aching feeling of grief as their pristine voices unite singing “How does he sleep at night, momma the nerve of this guy, to leave me so easy, am I gonna be alright? Momma, can you die from a broken heart?” They carry this emotion into “Tourist in This Town,” interpreting the feeling of trying to avoid all the familiar places that remind them of the person who left them heartbroken.

They put true sincerity on display in the raw title track that finds the lead singer speaking to their ex’s new lover. The song serves as an open conversation where they offer sage words of advice while navigating the pain of abandonment: “Some lay low, some get high, everybody’s got their way to get by, to fix what’s broken inside, and for him it’s goodbyes and tail lights,” they purely sing, demonstrating lyrical maturity.

While honesty and vulnerability shine on the project, the duo still embraces the no bullsh– attitude that made them a breakthrough voice in country music with the EP’s closing number “New Dog Old Tricks.” The duo calls out the repetitive ways in which men attempt to win over a woman’s affection, capturing the wit in Emily Weisband, Jesse Frasure and Laura Veltz’s clever songwriting. “Hey baby let me guess, you’ve never felt this before…this ain’t my first rodeo, I know the way this goes,” they proclaim over a rollicking melody, ending the EP on an empowering note.

The young, but wise duo has been open about the hardships they’ve endured, between losing a record deal after their former label Dot Records folded and Marlow bravely admitting how that led to a battle with depression. But with One Heart to Another, the sharp singers prove that in spite of these struggles, they’ve grown immensely, harboring the artistic talent and personal strength to create a project that reflects these qualities while setting the stage for a bright journey in a genre that needs voices as insightful as their own.

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Zac BrownFive of the Best Moments of Zac Brown Band’s Down The Rabbit Hole Tour

Zac Brown Band’s Down the Rabbit Hole Tour is as intriguing as its name. The acclaimed eight-piece band brought the dynamic show to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Thursday (March 28) for an incredible two-hour set packed with such hits as “Chicken Fried,” “Colder Weather,” “As She’s Walking Away” and many more. Here are five of our favorite moments from the Nashville production of Zac Brown Band’s Down the Rabbit Hole tour.

1. “Devil Went Down to Georgia”

The band’s cover of the Charlie Daniels classic has been a staple in their live show for years, and the group enamored the Nashville crowd with their distinct style of musicianship. Zac Brown used it as an opportunity to venture down one wing of the stage that brought him into the audience, allowing fans in the front row to get an close and personal look at his feverish guitar playing, his fingers moving at light speed. Their rendition of the legendary song made for one most electrifying moments of the night.

2. “Whipping Post”

In addition to “Devil Went Down to Georgia,” the band packed in a variety of other noteworthy cover songs throughout the elaborate show, one of which being a fierce rendition of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post,” accompanied by revered bassist Billy Sheehan. The gritty song allowed Clay Cook to shine as he sang each lyric from his soul while passionately playing the organ, and it was almost as if Brown and his fellow musicians forgot they were playing to an arena full of thousands of fans, becoming fully immersed in the intense jam session that took over the stage and warranted an extended standing ovation.

3. Pickin’ party

After lighting up the crowd with country and southern rock classics, the band brought the energy to a more intimate level by gathering at the foot of the stage for a living room style acoustic set. Brown explained how the tour’s name comes from the eclectic mix of artists that have shaped their individual music identities, and how bringing them all together is like diving down a rabbit hole. One of Brown’s artistic influences is James Taylor, and he paid homage to the legendary songwriter with a poignant rendition of “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.” He followed this with a thoughtful reflection about how he fell in love with harmonies listening to Simon & Garfunkel, a touching sentiment that led to an equally powerful version of the duo’s iconic hit, “The Boxer.”

4. “Toes”

The light-hearted hit is one of the Grammy winning band’s most recognizable, and the capacity crowd proved that with how invested they were in the song’s carefree spirit. In between the poignant James Taylor and Simon & Garfunkel numbers, the group provided a three-minute escape with “Toes,” eliciting a full-arena-sing-along to the breezy tune that had the roughly 20,000 fans chanting such popular lyrics as “I got my toes in the water, ass in the sand” and “adios and vaya con dios” at the top of their lungs, making for a euphoric moment.

5. The musicianship

Fans have long been captivated by the group’s stellar musicianship, and they had it on full display in Nashville, demonstrating their catalogue comprised of beautiful melodies and harmonies to match. Between Jimmy De Martini’s haunting fiddle solo preluding “Free,” to Brown’s lightning-like guitar playing and the power of the band’s stirring voices when they united in harmony, Zac Brown Band created magic with each song, so much so that we couldn’t help but think, “damn they’re good.”

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Maren MorrisAlbum Review - Maren Morris: Girl

Since Maren Morris established her undeniable presence in 2016 with her glowing debut album Hero, she’s since become a crossover star with a voice that’s elevated country music. She reflects her evolution on her sophomore album, GIRL, stepping outside the confines of country music to blossom artistically in bold and beautiful ways.

Morris continues to experiment sonically on GIRL, blending soul and country to create a distinct sound alongside themes of love and empowerment. The first indication of this evolution is the lead single and opening title track, an inspiring message of owning the feeling of low self-esteem, with the singer filling the role of the friend who gives you the strength to move forward. She builds on this momentum of delivering important lessons with “Common.” She and Brandi Carlile bring a spiritual moment to the album with their honest and humble duet that captures the rawness of the modern world. The two weave pure soul into the core of the song, from the throbbing melody to the meaningful lyrics that exude vulnerability, encouraging people to get out from under the weight of the world and look at their neighbors with empathy, as we all have more in common than we realize.

Morris intertwines these significant themes alongside vivid love songs, writing about the subject in a way that finds her owning her sexuality, whether on the sultry “Make Out With Me” and “RSVP,” or beautifully capturing the love between her and husband Ryan Hurd on “Hell and Back,” a soaring number that features her glistening vocals on such admiring lyrics “you didn’t change me, you didn’t think I needed changing, my wings are frayed and the reflect of my halo’s black, lucky for me, your kind of heaven it’s been to hell and back.”

But the true north of the album are the moments of inspiration that reflect who Morris truly is and solidify her place as a young trailblazer, like the way she channels self-confidence into “All My Favorite People,” calling on friends John and TJ Osborne of Brothers Osborne to revel in the unflinchingly honest aspects of life she appreciates most. We can only hope that the Tuesday nights mixing liquor with Crystal Light and finding clarity listening to John Prine albums on the back porch with a glass of wine are based on true stories, with Brothers Osborne contributing a bold presence to this rock-leaning, self-professed anthem.

But where Morris’ true sense of self comes to light is on “Flavor,” which feels like her personal declaration where she brazenly conveys how she’s still establishing her identity and puts forth the notion that originality takes time, all while celebrating those who challenge the norm. Deep in the song is one of the most striking messages on the album, as if she’s raising a middle finger to critics trying to suppress her and other women. “Yeah I’m a lady, I make my dough, won’t play the victim, don’t fit that mold, I speak my peace, don’t do what I’m told, shut up sing, well, hell no I won’t,” she sings persuasively, words we hope to hear fans chanting back to her during live shows.

Across 14 soul-searching songs, Morris proves that she’s a woman of integrity finding herself in different ways: through love, experimentation and, perhaps most notably, defying artistic boundaries. GIRL demonstrates her unique songwriting prowess, as she eloquently moves from the inspiring “GIRL” to a songs like “Make Out With Me” that are dripping in romance, before rounding out the album with “The Bones,” where she uses a withered, but unwavering home as a potent metaphor for a strong relationship.

GIRL is an important step in Morris’ growing legacy. She’s powerfully contributed her voice to the revolution surrounding equality for women in country music, and this album affirms with passionate songs like “GIRL,” “Flavor” and “Common,” in addition to eliciting female songwriters to co-write 10 of the album’s tracks. With GIRL, Morris advances to the next level, creating a dynamic project where she sincerely and intelligently lets the world into her insecurities and moments of weakness, only to rise through it all with perseverance. With her fearless nature, Morris proves the power of a female voice, making others feel equally as empowered as she is.

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Florida Georgia LineAlbum Review - Florida Georgia Line: Can’t Say I Ain’t Country

The title of Florida Georgia Line’s new album Can’t Say I Ain’t Country is more of a statement than it is a phrase, as the duo of Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley honor their country roots across 19 tracks.

The release of the bouncy, banjo-heavy lead single “Simple” served as a strong indication of the project’s overall sound that opens with the lively title track, a country anthem that has them proudly waving the flag for the country lifestyle. This element is integral to the album, as they continue to exude confidence in their roots on the rowdy “Y’all Boys” and “Small Town” that takes listeners on a John Deere tractor, basking in the summer sun and blazing down an old dirt road. No song better demonstrates their southern pride than the anthemic “Can’t Hide Red,” as they call on Jason Aldean to help proclaim that they no matter how far one ventures from their hometown, their roots will always be a part of their identity.

Though the album is mostly comprised of upbeat tunes, the sentimental ballad “Women” is a refreshing change of pace where Hubbard and Kelley’s voices shine alongside duet partner Jason Derulo as they harmoniously sing about the impactful women in their lives. It’s one of the most humble moments on the album as they express gratefulness in lyrics “learn more with every hand you holdin,’ just to get you ready for the one that’s right…women, beautiful women, we’re all better off with ‘em right by our side.” They carry this thoughtfulness into “People Are Different,” an unassuming song that finds the duo acknowledging a diverse range of people, encouraging acceptance and tolerance across all lifestyles from income levels to geographic differences. They close the album on a down-to-earth note with “Blessings,” a reflective ballad that sounds like a love letter dedicated to their wives, recognizing how they bring out the best in their character while sharing thankfulness for the beauty in the life they’ve built.

Can’t Say I Ain’t Country mainly follows the FGL formula, one that stands on a foundation of feel-good party songs. But this time, they’re steadfast in using music as a way to resist those who try to deny their place in country music. Fans of the duo’s previous work will likely appreciate Can’t Say I Ain’t Country, not only for its celebration of country life, but the honest messages that tell the story of those who identify with it.

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