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Life Changes
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  • Recording information: Blackbird Studios, Nashville, TN; Enemy Dojo Studio, Calabasas, CA; Rhythm House, Nashville, TN; RTBGV, Nashville, TN; Sarm Music Village, London, UK; Sound Stage Studios, Nashville, TN.
  • Photographer: John Shearer.
  • Life Changes is nothing if it's not a literal title. This third album from Thomas Rhett arrives on the heels of 2015's Tangled Up, the album that confirmed his country stardom, an event significant enough to warrant such an album name, but the singer experienced positive personal upheaval too. Just months after adopting an 18-month-old baby, Rhett's wife became pregnant, so the singer became a father twice over in the wake of Tangled Up, an experience he chronicles in the concluding verse of the album's title track. It's a sentimental tale, so it's not surprising he gets a little sticky when he recites autobiographical particulars, but his willingness to open up the entirety of his heart signals how Rhett is a modern man, and Life Changes stands as a testament to that fact. He's a loyal loverman, continuing to seduce his longtime partner years after they fell for each other; he's a smooth talker with a penchant for over-sharing, a tendency that makes him an ideal country-pop star for the age of social media. Life Changes is littered with references to the modern world -- blue check marks on an Instagram, burned CDs, mango green tea, and Coldplay songs -- but, more impressively, the music engages with contemporary pop trends, going far beyond the R&B inclinations of Tangled Up. Notably, Rhett leans hard into dance music, pushing skittering EDM drops on "Leave Right Now" and coating his Maren Morris disco duet "Craving You" with a sleek electronic gloss. Such sly adventure is appealing -- particularly because it's balanced by a good dose of country-soul and such straight-ahead country as "Drink a Little Beer," a duet with his father, Rhett Akins -- but Life Changes isn't just flash; it's grounded by its 14 well-constructed songs. Sometimes that craft is in the service of nothing more than slick radio pop, but the breezy "Smooth Like the Summer" and simmering "Gateway Love" retain their charms after multiple plays due to their sculpted melodies and Rhett's light touch, a quality that helps sell such life lessons as "Sixteen," a song of experience that serves as the counterpoint to the mawkish "Life Changes." But even that title track is expertly assembled, sailing along on a lilting groove and drum loop, evidence that Rhett is as savvy a musician as he is a pop star. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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