Thomas Rhett’s brand of country is meant to push boundaries. The 23-year old son of singer/songwriter Rhett Akins has quickly become known along Music Row for blending a downhome drawl with country storylines and a dose of self-aware hip hop. Thomas co-wrote Jason Aldean’s Joe Diffie-inspired thumper “1994” as well as Florida Georgia Line’s No. 1 hit “Round Here,” and on his first LP, the Georgia native continues to blur the lines with a smart, country-fried debut.
It Goes Like This, which is available now, mixes and matches styles over the course of 12 songs while continuously keeping the country boy theme. Including a few updated cuts from his 2012 self-titled EP, Thomas’ sound ranges from down South shakers like “Whatcha Got In That Cup,” where swirling slide guitar pairs with rattling percussion, through to the starry-eyed soul and sparkling notes of the Eric Church-meets-Tom Jones, “Make Me Wanna.” Yet, as heard on the excellent “Front Porch Junkies (Remix),” which was co-written with the Warren Brothers, rugged and rural are the ties that bind. While harmonica and hick hop rhythms provide a funky beat, Thomas drops laidback rhymes like, We just sippin’ moonshine watchin’ chicken fry, as if delivering a redneck version of the classic Sugar Hill Gang track “Rapper’s Delight.” Many country artists incorporate hip hop influences, but none seem to pull it off with quite the same ease. Syncopated vocal performances on the power ballad “Get Me Some Of That” and guitar-plucked “Call Me Up” are half sung/half rapped with an easy glide.
Thomas worked with three of Nashville’s hottest producers on the project: Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Little Big Town), Michael Knox (Jason Aldean, Kelly Clarkson) and Luke Laird (Kacey Musgraves, Brett Eldredge). Though each has a distinct sonic approach, It Goes Like This doesn’t lose focus. In fact, Jay Joyce’s open atmospherics on the swampy “All-American Middle Class White Boy” sound right at home next to Luke Laird’s rootsy dial on the ¾-time “Sorry For Partyin’.” With a sly sense of humor that’s found all over the album, Thomas sings on the latter, Dear Grandma in Georgia/Who wasn’t even up/Yeah, that picture wasn’t for you, giving voice to an embarrassing, yet fairly comical, situation some are sure to have faced.
It Goes Like This is full of good times. The power chord come-on “Something To Do With My Hands” and slower “Here In A Minute” both live for the moment. The album’s best song, however, is the thought-provoking “Beer With Jesus.” A song that sparked controversy due to its title and setting, “Beer With Jesus” depicts the conversation while genuinely seeking knowledge with a humble heart. How’d you turn the other cheek to save a sorry soul like me?, Thomas sings over a simple acoustic/electric arrangement and tender harmonies.
It Goes Like This blends styles with amazing efficiency. Yet, with a consistent delivery and an easygoing drawl, it’s quickly apparent that good things are to come from this talented young singer/songwriter with an obvious love for different sounds.
Key Tracks – “Beer With Jesus,” “All-American Middle Class White Boy,” “In A Minute,” “Front Porch Junkies (Remix)”