Go ahead and type Center Point Road into your GPS. It'll pull up a nondescript street in Hendersonville, Tennessee, leading away from Nashville's suburban sprawl at the north edge of Old Hickory Lake. It won't mean much to you or me, but for country star Thomas Rhett, there was a time when it was everything.
With 13 smash No. Ones hits, an armload of awards including current ACM Awards Male Artist of the Year, and a growing reputation for electrifying headline tours, he's spent the last seven years evolving from a kid on Center Point Road into a sonic trailblazer, and country radio's most-played artist of 2018. Three adventurous album cycles have come and gone, and each time he's mined his upbringing for inspiration. But now, with what can truly be described as an autobiographical fourth studio album, he's looking back with renewed clarity.
"It's kind of getting back to my roots in a way," Thomas Rhett explains. "Center Point Road is a little street in Hendersonville, Tennessee, and it's where I did all my growing up – first kisses, first dates, first time driving to school when you turn 16, all the stuff that made me into the person I am."
The follow up to his Grammy-nominated, Platinum-selling #1 album Life Changes, Center Point Road is indeed a return to Thomas Rhett's roots. All those moments and more are revealed through a series of deeply-personal twists and turns – but this project isn't about pining for glory days. It's about knowing where you came from and who you really are, regardless of how much has changed. It's about pushing forward, chasing crazy dreams and raising a family, and staying true to yourself in the process.
"It's really cool listening back," the hit maker says. "Because it's way more focused on who I am than I've done in the past."
That focus did not happen by accident. For the first time, Thomas Rhett co-penned each of the album's 16 tracks, spending two years on the road with a wildly diverse group of writers, tallying over 200 songs in the last year alone. From country mainstays like his father, Rhett Akins, to pop specialists like JKash or Amy Wadge and bonafide rock stars like OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder, the sessions were all different, but all focused on the same thing – those Center Point Road moments which shaped an extraordinary life.
Thomas Rhett then hit the studio, co-producing with trusted companions Dann Huff, Jesse Frasure and Julian Bunetta. But even with a consistent thread of country nostalgia, Center Point Road keeps its finger on the genre's modern pulse. Embracing the bold unpredictability which is becoming Thomas Rhett's signature, hot-blooded R&B meets brassy, shag-carpeted funk, danceable disco and breezy beachside soul, joining classic balladry, new school honky-tonk and above all, twangy authenticity.
"On the last few records I was experimenting, digging into a lot of different genres and exploring my own kind of country," Thomas Rhett admits. "On this one, I just got back to why I wanted to make music in the first place – and that was writing great songs. This is one of those records that every time I listen to it, it still feels new."
The album begins by teleporting right into the middle of his vivid, coming-of-age memories. "Up" is a high-energy romp about how you can't appreciate the sunshine until you've been caught in a storm. "Blessed" uses feel good soul, inspired from days as a kid listening to doo-wop with his grandmother, to describe being way more than "lucky." And the rusty-fenders anthem "That Old Truck" celebrates countless character building backroad drives, leading Thomas Rhett to declare "this is why I love to write songs."
Elsewhere, the funk-and-disco stunner "VHS" is a tribute to senior-year summers and T-shirt dresses, while the propulsive "Don't Stop Drivin'" recalls a life of endless possibility, with nowhere to go and nothing but open road ahead.
Like anyone tracing the contours of their most impactful moments, themes friendship and fun are everywhere, with Thomas Rhett inviting some of his country music pals to guest on three tracks. The delirious "Don't Threaten Me With a Good Time" features Little Big Town and perfectly captures the spirit of a rowdy, R&B-fueled house party. And later on Jon Pardi joins for a swaying two stepper titled "Ain't Nothin a Beer Can't Fix," offering his California cool as a remedy for whatever ails you.
"If I could have a friend on every single song, I would probably do it," Thomas Rhett laughs. "Just because I feel like making music with your friends is so much more fun than doing it yourself."
At this point even casual fans know romance is a huge part of Thomas Rhett's story, and he gave fans a new chapter with the kinetic debut single, "Look What God Gave Her." With its daring electronic sound, stunning harmony stacks and smooth talking vocal hook, he challenged himself to write a sweet love song for his wife, Lauren – something he's done to chart topping effect on hits like "Die a Happy Man" and "Unforgettable" – and do it in an uptempo way.
"It makes me want to dance, it makes me want to move," he says about the irresistible album highlight. "And to me, the song really is a celebration of how awesome Lauren is. … It's really just about thanking God for the human being He made, and singing it in a fun way."
Tender tracks like "Notice" and sun kissed beach-pop standout "Sand" are based in lovestruck innocence, with the small-town soul of "Barefoot" dedicated to girls who don't care how fancy the company is. "Things You Do for Love" features a sweeping cinematic arc and an unforgettably romantic hook, while "Remember You Young" takes a dramatic, big-picture view of childhood friends, marriage and Thomas Rhett's two daughters. And then there's "Dream You Never Had." Hitting like a late-night prayer, it's a soul-bearing thank you to the woman who makes everything good in his life a reality.
"I know it's been hard, I know it ain't easy / But I couldn't do one show without you, baby believe me," he croons in the heart-swelling ballad.
Meanwhile, the anthemic title track describes high school in arena-ready, singalong fashion – "When growing up was just a dream / And Friday night was everything," it goes. Joined by Kelsea Ballerini and her serenely smoky vocals, piano melodies and sweeping synths capture what it feels like to stare down an unknown future, with a pressure-cooker of emotions magnifying every fork in the road.
"Are we gonna win the football game? Am I gonna marry this girl who I'm dating at 17 years old? As you get older you start to look back at those fears and failures and successes," Thomas Rhett explains. "Now I'm 28 years old with a wife and two kids, and I'm thinking 'The way I grew up really shaped who I am today.' I think that's the root of Center Point Road."
But if that's the root, then the album closer, "Almost," is its newest growth. A gracious, sunset-country tribute to all those forks in the road, it's a vivid scrapbook of Center Point Road memories, and proof Thomas Rhett is actually grateful for those almost disasters. Without them, who knows what might have been.
"Thank God for the highs, thank God for the lows," he sings. "Thank God for the almost."