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Rascal Flatts' formula keeps on working on new CD

Rascal Flatts is a multiplatinum success because - like Wal-Mart, Applebee's and the Gap - it is overwhelmingly predictable. Fans know exactly what to expect.

A Rascal Flatts ballad, no matter who writes it, will almost always feature soft, aching country verses, big, anthem-like choruses that show off Gary LeVox's poignant vocals and flecks of rock guitar and pop harmony. That goes for "What Hurts the Most" and "Take Me There" and pretty much all of "Unstoppable" (Lyric Street), which is not necessarily a bad thing.

The trio soars using that tried-and-true formula on the working man's pep talk "Things That Matter," which will grow into one of the most powerful songs in the band's catalog. The title track of "Unstoppable" also is remarkably strong, building on the U2-meets-country sound they have dabbled with. And the single "Here Comes Goodbye" blends bits of their recent successes to create a new one.

While Rascal Flatts used to try out different styles on its albums, the band seems to be homing in on a singular sound. Why fix what isn't broken, right? Unfortunately, applying the same dynamics to lesser songs only makes their deficiencies more obvious, leading to LeVox's misplaced repetitive concern of "It wasn't long enough" on "Forever" and some awkward phrasing on "Once," co-written by "American Idol" judge Kara DioGuardi.

When Rascal Flatts fires on all cylinders, "Unstoppable" really does live up to its name, but it also shows the trio can occasionally stop themselves.

RASCAL FLATTS "Unstoppable"

THE GRADE B

BOTTOM LINE The country-pop balladeers stick with their formula

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