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Rascal Flatts

Back to Us – 2017 (Big Machine)

Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh

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CDs by Rascal Flatts

As summer insistently steps forward and knocks at our doorstep with bright sunny rays and promises of sun-soaked hijinks, longtime pop country superstars Rascal Flatts aim to provide the perfect soundtrack with "Back To Us." Loaded with the band's signature tight harmonies and upbeat jams built around lyrics of love and loss, Rascal Flatts doesn't move far off the beaten path while carving out a high energy declaration of summer love.

Fans looking for those beach cruising jams need do no more than press play on their devices as opener "Yours If You Want It" kicks things off strong, Gary LeVox's pitch perfect vocals rolling over a bright arrangement laden with pulsing percussion and the requisite searing guitar solo while "Hopin' You Were Lookin'" makes much of the band's rich harmonies, deeply mining their pop influences with the "whoa, oh, oh" chorus that accompanies it.

"Dance" follows a similar template, building off a restless intro that emerges out into a burst of sonic energy that's a bright as the aforementioned summer day. Drawing from a mid-tempo palette, "Kiss You While I Can" delivers playful lyrics alongside a warm-hearted composition before switching over to the Motown R&B flavors of "Vandalized," a track co-written by Chris Stapleton and Luke Laird. "Our Time" offers its own sense of energy as well, but falls a bit flat, the inclusion of an all too obvious choir stepping in and feeling clichéd.

Fans that invest in the deluxe edition will get even more from the band, with the beat-heavy "Hands Talk" delivering its sultry suggestion while "Roller Rink" recalls the playfulness of the band's early hit, "Mayberry." "Thieves" rounds out the deluxe set with another slow builder, the set building to its crescendo and giving the fans more of what they want.

While fans may enjoy the high energy tracks, some of the greater highlights are found among the more subdued moments. "Back to Us" is such a case in point, highlighting LeVox's range while delivering a tale of heartbreak and reconciliation and is followed by the torch song vibes of "I Know You Won't." Led by a resonant piano run, LeVox's vocals own the pain that the lyric shares and makes it one of the better listens. Such is the case with "Are You Happy Now," a duet with Lauren Alaina. It's passionate, overwrought and simply sounds great, the two voices playing against each other sublimely and selling the song for all it's worth and making it perhaps record's strongest.

If there's one knock against "Back To Us," it's that many of these tracks, not unlike a summer romance, tend to fade into the background after you've experienced them, lacking that great hook that brings you back again and again. Still, for fans of Rascal Flatts' blend of pop and country, there's plenty to be had here.