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Rascal Flatts

Rewind – 2014 (Big Machine)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

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Don't worry. Just because Rascal Flatts' Gary LeVox sings, "Try to talk to George Strait into givin' us an encore" on the hit single and title track doesn't mean that the traditional country giant is all of a sudden a cornerstone for the trio that has been front and center of the pop country sound. In fact, they make it quite clear from the second the play button is struck with the hard rocking "Payback" thanks to lots of electric guitar and rocking vocals from LeVox.

Long-time producer Dann Huff, who favors big sounds, has been with the band since "Me and My Gang" in 2006. On "Rewind," Rascal Flatts' ninth studio recording, his role is reduced to one cut, "Life's a Song," which he co-produced with the group. The production was pretty much split between Howard Benson and Flatts bassist Jay DeMarcus, who took the lead in producing, and guitarist Joe Rooney and LeVox.

So this is not the same Rascal Flatts of syrupy songs that have tended to fit right in with the non-traditional country movement (well there is the closing "The Mechanic"). There's a harder edge both sonically and vocally with LeVox tending to up the ante more in his singing. They may have taken it one step further with the harder edged rock and synth sounds ("Honeysuckle Lazy," although banjo is the only instrument you hear on the outro).

Yes, just what constitutes country (and many genres) seems to have fallen victim to blurred lines these days, but about the only country element here is inclusion of pedal steel, fiddle, banjo and mandolin, and none are particularly prominent in any of the 13 songs. Yes you do hear mandolin in "Rewind" at one stretch, but it's layered behind the screaming electric guitar.

Rascal Flatts took their sound one step further with harder edged rock and synth sounds ("Honeysuckle Lazy," although banjo is the only instrument you hear on the outro). Rascal Flatts remains catchy, highly accessible and are very good at what they do.

The group slows it down on the "I Have Never Been to Memphis" with emotive vocals from LeVox and a heavy dose of strings. LeVox also does a most credible vocal effort on "Riot" with soaring strings backing him up. RF gets a bit funky on the breezy, fast-paced "Powerful Stuff" with its squeals closing out the song. Otherwise, it's a lot of big sounds and statements more often than not in a pop setting (the catchy "DJ Tonight").

The gulf remains huge between the type of country music purveyed by King George and Rascal Flatts.