With his relaxed, rhythmically supple singing, Thomas Rhett, the son of ’90s country star Rhett Akins, has been compared to George Strait. That’s a bit of a stretch: The 27-year-old Georgian has neither the silky texture of Strait’s voice nor his rootedness in country-music tradition. A better comparison would be Dierks Bentley, a savvy singer who has been able to balance by-the-checklist country-radio hits with surprising twists.
On “Life Changes,” Rhett’s third album, he leads with “Craving You,” a lusty, up-tempo duet with Maren Morris that buries her voice under a stodgy, ’70s arena-rock arrangement. “Unforgettable” recalls a first date with sharp-eyed, witty details and an understated Jimmy Buffett-like arrangement. The best details probably came from master lyricist Shane McAnally (who co-wrote three of the album’s finest songs), but Rhett’s disarming vocal makes it work.
Back and forth the album bounces between the predictable and the surprising. “Drink a Little Beer,” a duet with his dad, is a throwback to the bro-country of earlier this decade. “Leave Right Now” and “When You Look Like That” are horny-male confessions as heavy-handed as their beats. But “Sixteen” is an evocation of confusing adolescence worthy of Eric Church, and the autobiographical title track celebrates the adoption of a Ugandan baby, not the first thing you’d expect from a country-radio song.
Show: With Dan + Shay and Walker Hayes on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Jiffy Lube Live. 703-754-6400. jiffylubelive.com. $31-$179.