Review Summary: The award winning country trio returns to their roots, while savoring every chance to experiment, resulting in one of their best projects to date.
Rascal Flatts, a country trio hailing from Columbus, Ohio, never found success before facing stringent adversity. From making 27 cents a night at a bar in Printer's Alley to being labeled a twangy poor man's Backstreet Boys, the group never found true commercial appraisal until 2006, when their smash hit "What Hurts the Most" nearly scaled the summit of the Billboard Hot 100. The track is notable for having shifted the group's sound. Every release in the subsequent decade carried poppier overtones that eerily enriched the group's music. Despite being a strong release, 2014's Rewind
was a blatant effort to keep up with the times. On the group's 10th effort however, Back to Us
, they shirk the temptations of the format in order to do everything the project's name suggests.
Lead off single "Yours If You Want It" harkens back to the eclectic blueprint that made the group's earliest discography a laundry list of radio hits. Gary LeVox's sterling vocal register hasn't sounded this refreshed since the group moved to Big Machine Records in 2010. Bassist Jay DeMarcus and guitarist Joe Don Rooney contribute excellent backing vocals, resulting in an ebullient harmony among the three. The track's high production value and pleasant composition add onto that to create a guaranteed radio hit; as of this writing, it is about to crack the top 10 at Billboard Country Airplay. The album's title track and "Hopin' You Were Lookin'" also carry a lot of radio hit potential, the former a power ballad unlike any the group has recorded before, the latter a sunny country pop tune that sings of finding new love.
While using the album's 35 minute runtime to recapture the youthful freshness of their eponymous 2000 debut, Rascal Flatts also uses Back to Us
as a springboard to expand their sonic identity. Chris Stapleton penned the passages of the gritty "Vandalized" and the haunting ballad "I Know You Won't" was previously recorded by Carrie Underwood. "Dance" and deluxe edition track "Roller Rink" are rock tributes featuring some slick riffage from Rooney and audible bass from DeMarcus. "Are You Happy Now" features guest vocals from former American Idol runner up Lauren Alaina and it is without question one of the best tracks Rascal Flatts has ever recorded.
"Are You Happy Now" is a duet that sings of a former flame who has taken advantage of you and is now feeling the pinch of their mistake. "What goes around comes back around, it's been that way forever" sing LeVox and Alaina as two of the best voices in modern country come together for a ballad with enough adult contemporary pulsation and crossover appeal that it has all the makings of both a chart topping single and future live show staple. "Love What You've Done With the Place" gives LeVox another chance to shine behind the microphone, thanks to the crisp production value. Sans one deluxe track produced by busbee, the group produced the album entirely by themselves. The album closes with "Our Night to Shine." Written for the Tim Tebow Foundation's yearly event of the same name, it's an inspiring anthem singing of two young lovers having their moment in the sun at senior prom.
Back to Us
is a love letter from Rascal Flatts, both to their fans and to themselves. While they never miss a moment to expand their sound and create new opportunities, they achieve something even more important. They've found themselves again with this record and it's one they themselves wished to make. No longer feeling pressured to prove themselves, silence critics or hijack current trends, Rascal Flatts returns to their roots by returning to their career hallmarks of sterling vocal harmonies, high production value and genre-transcending composition. Back to Us
is a victory by every measure and will surely stand up as some of the group's best work for years to come.