In his sixth studio album, “Where We Started,” Thomas Rhett has checked off all the boxes when it comes to a generic country album. He’s got songs about drinking, songs about God, songs about country life and, most importantly, love songs about his wife and daughters.
Now a 32-year-old country singer-songwriter, Rhett leans more in the direction of a radio country artist than a traditional folk singer. He mixes country influences with pop sounds to create a more modern genre that defies the limits of traditional country.
In my personal opinion, love songs are Rhett’s forte, with consistently stronger compositions and palatable tones. Tracks like “Die a Happy Man,” “Marry Me” and “Life Changes” from his previous albums are staples on any good country playlist. Similarly, in this album, the love songs are among the stronger tracks on the album. They share intense personal memories for Rhett and detail gorgeous metaphors that melt my sappy heart.
The album starts off with a love ballad entitled “The Hill.” Rhett uses a soft melody and the metaphor of fighting a battle to express the lengths he would go to fight for his love. The standout lyrics “Not every battle’s worth it / I’ll admit where I’ve gone wrong / But fightin’ for your love / That’s the hill I wanna die on” started the album off on the right foot and I suspect it will be a popular wedding song.
“The Hill” is one of about nine love songs on the album; it’s clear Rhett enjoys writing these tracks as much as his fans enjoy listening to them. However, within this category of Rhett songs, he seemed to have created a new subcategory that could be referred to as nostalgic. He sheds light on his past and looks to the future as he is now a veteran artist.
Almost a decade since Rhett released his debut album “It Goes Like This,” it's obvious that Rhett wanted to reminisce on his musical and personal journeys through this album considering the title track he chose and the way this theme overpowers the album. Songs like “Mama’s Front Door” and “Slow Down Summer” reflect on the history between him and his wife, whereas songs like the title track, “Where We Started,” go back to before Rhett achieved stardom.
With Katy Perry featuring, I expected more from Rhett in the title track. The song “Where We Started” is sweet and all, but it’s nothing special. It’s a simple melody with simple lyrics about the beginnings of his career that lack detail. The track sets the tone for the overarching nostalgic theme of the album, but it won’t be the first song I put on my playlist. I would have preferred he went for a more anthemic approach that celebrated his success compared to the way he began his music career. Instead, this song is dull and disappointing as it did not fulfill my expectations for an album-ending song.
The other songs that Rhett features on this album about drinking, country life and God, are mostly average at best. Tracks like “Church Boots” and “Bass Pro Hat” make me understand why some people have such a strong hatred for this genre. The tracks give off honky-tonk ambiance and pander to the stereotypical country songs about wearing your work boots to church and liking a girl in a hat.
I will say that one song, “Death Row,” stuck out to me.
“Death Row” is different from almost every song on the album, it’s heartfelt and somber, yet uplifting. In the Apple Music synopsis of the album, Rhett explains that this song was inspired by an experience he shared with Tyler Hubbard and Russell Dickerson, who are featured on the song. According to Rhett, the three were asked to perform for some inmates serving time on death row. Upon performing and speaking with them, Rhett said he felt empathy for the inmates and felt like there was room for redemption, even for those sentenced to die.
The soft strums of guitar and slow build of the instruments make the song beautiful to listen to, while the steady drum beats and electric guitar elevate the spirit of the song. The music and message through the lyrics are unmatched by anything else on the album.
“Where We Started” as a whole is a solid listening experience. You’ll get everything you expect from a country album with a little gem on track nine. Other than that, this album, while enjoyable, was not a stand-out country album. Rhett is strong in his storytelling abilities, but I wanted more from one of my favorite country artists.
For now, I’ll just drive down a country road with my sunroof open listening to “Slow Down Summer” as I await a stroke of genius from Rhett on lucky album number seven.