Modern country favorites, the members of Rascal Flatts often seem defined less by who they are than by who they are not. Among their contemporaries, Toby Keith is more stridently jingoistic and a more accomplished lothario, Brad Paisley is more nuanced and progressive, and Tim McGraw is more sophisticated and urbane. But Rascal Flatts has remained a top draw for more than a decade by sticking to a formula of largely wholesome good-time music, whose hooks and hokum are unlikely to offend.
On the new record “Changed,” the trio sticks to its accustomed formula: a difficult-to-resist mixture of easy melodies, well-told stories and highly polished production. The infectious “Banjo” feels like a sped-up version of the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider,” in which singer Gary LeVox imagines a fantastical road trip that culminates with a banjo prodigy in a faraway juke joint. If Rascal Flatts’ seeming aesthetic preference for the sonic touches of ’80s-era soft rock (at times, the group sounds like Air Supply) cuts against its country bona fides, the often-penitent lyrics redouble their place in the tradition. On the title track, LeVox sings, “The things I’ve done, that was not me / I wish that I could take it all back.” It’s a sentiment that conjures essayist Bill Flanagan’s observation that rock music often dispenses with the consequences of vainglory and excess, while country music typically obsesses over them.
It’s difficult to criticize unpretentious music so eager to ingratiate. On “Changed,” Rascal Flatts accomplishes its mandate of tuneful, high-energy Southern-tinged music with admirable aplomb.
“Changed,” “Banjo,” “Great Big Love”