In a year that was brought to a standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Thomas Rhett recalls a candid conversation he had with his wife Lauren in the onset of the pandemic. Anxious to return to his hectic schedule of rehearsals and touring, Lauren grounded him in the reality that wasn’t what he was meant to be doing at the moment. Instead, she encouraged him to live life and reconnect with his roots as a songwriter. After a two-month break, inspiration struck as Rhett put pen to paper and “Country Again” began pouring out, opening the floodgates for the rest of the album.
“For the first time in a long time, I was like, ‘what do I want to say?’ I started to sit down with a guitar and I was like ‘what do I want to write?’ and it took a lot of the weight off my shoulders,” Rhett shares with Sounds Like Nashville and other media. “I felt like I’ve been reflecting on every album, but this one was a little bit different. I feel like I was taking 10 years worth of knowledge from the road, to getting married, to being a dad to then hitting the year 2020 it all sinks in, ‘what kind of person have I been in the last 10 years?’ As much as this record is looking back, a lot of it is a timestamp of today. I love writing songs that sum up where I’m at in life today based on what’s happened in the past. That was the inspiration on a lot of the songs on this side.”
Country Again: Side A serves as a return to form for the beloved country superstar who’s amassed 17 No. 1 hits, toured the world as an arena headliner and was named Entertainer of the Year at the 2020 ACM Awards. When he was forced to hit pause in 2020 for the first time in his career, he found his center being present with his wife and three daughters five-year-old Willa Gray, three-year-old Ada James and one-year-old Lennon Love. He also reconnected with his country roots, exemplified by the confessional opening line of the title track, “I quit hunting with my daddy/Guess I didn’t make the time.” Through the song, we see Rhett fishing and hunting with his father Rhett Akins, the writer behind many of his son’s hit songs, along with reuniting with friends over cold beer and Eric Church and putting down his phone to soak in the moonlight alongside his wife.
“With the year that we had in 2020, I think a lot of us were forced to not do what we do for a living and to slow down and to recognize ‘what are your blessings in life and what are you grateful for?’ I think a lot of us have been grinding without realizing how hard we’re actually working. Hard work is great, but I do think every now and then you can slow down and smell the roses for a second. That’s what last year was for me,” Rhett explains. “A lot of this record is nostalgic. I was trying to be a songwriter… and really wanting to write straight up from the heart, exactly what I was feeling, not sugarcoating anything,” he adds of his approach to the album. “It’s become easy for me to be vulnerable in songwriting.”
That vulnerability shines through in various stages throughout the project, particularly in “Heaven Right Now” that sees Rhett stepping outside of his songwriting comfort zone by approaching the subject of grief. Inspired by he and Lauren’s close friend Hunter who passed away nearly a decade ago, the melodic tribute finds Rhett feeling Hunter’s presence each time he hears Church’s “Sinners Like Me” coming through the dashboard of his truck and how Lauren honors his memory by wearing a commemorative bracelet. “This song was written from my perspective of life is still moving on per usual down here. A lot of things have changed, but still wondering what he’s doing, because it’s probably way cooler than anything that we’re doing down here,” Rhett observes. “[It’s] a song that I thought could potentially give some encouragement and hope to some people that have lost really close people in their lives and that reassurance that they are going to see him one day again.”
Then there’s the forewarning “To the Guys That Date My Girls” that Rhett co-wrote with his father, Josh Thompson and Will Bundy while on the road in 2019. The song that serves as a word of caution to his daughters’ future partners became an instant fan favorite when he debuted the song live at a show in Birmingham, Ala. hours after it was written. “I knew we had something special because I played it in concert the same night we wrote the song and I was watching grown men hugging their daughters crying hearing the song,” Rhett narrates. “Looking out into a crowd getting to play a song that no one’s ever heard and watching that kind of reaction was really special.”
But the album’s closer, “Ya Heard,” not only ends the project on a heartfelt note, but stands as a culmination of Rhett’s life thus far. Described by the singer as “a decade worth of prayer in three and a half minutes,” the harmonica-heavy tune is his wife and eldest daughter Willa’s favorite on the album, as Rhett sees the years of hopes and dreams he spoke into the universe come to fruition through packed arenas, building a beautiful life with the woman he loves and becoming a father to the children he always dreamed of — a fitting close for an artist who hopes to leave a positive impact on the world with each lyric he writes. “I looked back at the last 10 years of my life and all of those prayers got answered in its own time and in ways that I never could have imagined,” Rhett says with gratitude. “I really want my songs to be an encouragement. This is my way of getting to talk to a lot of people at one time, and I think if I can put a little bit of the things that I believe in my music, then it’ll resonate with other people, and hopefully they’re encouraged by that. The longer I live life, I’m aware of my words and the way that I use them and I think my kids would be the main inspiration behind that,” he professes. “I want them to grow up being proud of my music and hope that it encourages them as well.”
Country Again: Side A is available now, with Side B expected later this year.