Rascal Flatts

Back to Us

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If the title of Back to Us suggests that the three members of Rascal Flatts have decided to ditch everything extraneous and return to their roots, well, that's intentional. Upon its spring 2017 release, Jay DeMarcus claimed in the press release, "There was a nostalgic feeling between the three of us while in the studio for this record, a feeling that was more reminiscent of our first albums," a move that might've been necessary after the band's sly modernization on 2014's Rewind. That album was recorded with producer Howard Benson -- whose best-known collaborations include Kelly Clarkson, 3 Doors Down, and DAUGHTRY -- who perhaps gave the record too bright a crossover sheen, but Back to Us finds the group collaborating with busbee, the producer who helmed Maren Morris' excellent 2016 debut, Hero. Back to Us isn't nearly as ambitious as Hero -- there's not a trace of hip-hop in its rhythms, although there is some R&B -- but busbee helps push the veteran trio toward a hipper adult contemporary. The shift is crystallized on "Vandalized," a song co-written by neo-outlaw sensation Chris Stapleton and Luke Laird: it's a soul song at its heart, so busbee gives its verses a nimble modern R&B flair, but Rascal Flatts straighten out the song by its chorus. No matter how many feints toward modernity the trio makes -- another is the Lauren Alaina duet "Are You Happy Now" -- the group remains cheerfully square, prizing gentle melodies, slick harmonies, and shiny surfaces. That's been their specialty since 2000, and Back to Us delivers the goods just as reliably as any of the nine albums they've released since.

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