Center Point Road
BOTTOM LINE Combining nostalgic thoughts and modern pop tricks to stretch country’s sound
Success has its privileges.
Thomas Rhett, the Academy of Country Music’s reigning Male Vocalist of the Year, has racked up an impressive 12 No. 1 singles, including “Die a Happy Man” and “Marry Me,” from his previous three albums. But for his fourth album “Center Point Road” (Valory Music), named for the street in Hendersonville, Tennessee, where he grew up, Rhett wants to show where he came from, both personally and musically.
And his musical roots offer plenty of surprises.
“VHS” is his country twist on that same late ‘80s funk-pop era that Bruno Mars reprised on his “24K Magic” album. Though it leans a little more gospel than rock, the inspirational “Up” could easily be the next Shawn Mendes single. “Beer Can’t Fix,” which Rhett sings with Jon Pardi and co-wrote with Ryan Tedder and others, has verses that move like R. Kelly’s “Ignition” before settling into a Jimmy Buffett groove for the chorus. “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time,” his collaboration with Little Big Town, sounds like his mix of honky-tonk and “Uptown Funk.”
You’ve got to hand it to him. All these risks pay off, more or less, and Rhett will likely be rewarded with another string of hits. However, his strongest moments really are the subtler ones. The opening of “Center Point Road”’s title track uses EDM-influenced synthesizers to create drama to contrast with the sweet nostalgic thoughts he spools out with Kelsea Ballerini. The current single “Look What God Gave Her” merges breezy, ‘70s pop with current radio-friendly country. And while country singers sure love singing about their trucks, “That Old Truck” is poignant and maybe even more personal than ballads like “Blessed.”
“Center Point Road” may not quite be the pop crossover Rhett seems to be looking for, but it should show country radio the value of artistic experimentation.