When Thomas Rhett isn't on the road opening for Florida Georgia Line on their headlining Anything Goes Tour, the red-hot artist has been hard at work in the studio, recording the follow-up to 2013's It Goes Like This. Judging by new single "Crash and Burn," which shot to the top of iTunes' country chart this week, and a smattering of songs he played for journalists late last month, the still untitled album is taking bold steps in a funkier direction.
But while those Bruno Mars-influenced sounds may excite Rhett, they also terrify him. "I would be lying if I told you I wasn't extremely nervous about what the feedback was going to be," he says of releasing "Crash and Burn." "But it was the perfect decision for us, and I have been completely blown away with the way fans have been responding to it."
And for good reason: "Crash and Burn" is CDC-level infectious. Written by Jesse Frasure and Chris Stapleton, who provides backing vocals, the song combines the funky sounds Rhett says have always been a part of his musical makeup.
"When I first started writing with dad [Rhett Akins], he and Dallas Davidson and Ben Hayslip used to write songs that were just so Otis Redding country that it was undeniable," he says. "This record really is a mixture of so many different sounds, whether it's throwback country or disco or R&B. It feels good to have such a variety of songs to play and please a lot of different ears."
The dance-ready "Crash and Burn" is just the latest country product to bring in the funk. Ashley Monroe's current single "On to Something Good" is a slice of Muscle Shoals R&B, while Gary Allan's "Hangover Tonight" and Drake White's "It Feels Good" swoon with soul. Next month, Chris Stapleton, who provides backing vocals on "Crash and Burn," will release his album Traveller, which, while undeniably country, is also infused with an R&B sensibility.
"It's kind of reinventing what's old," says Rhett of the trend. He believes such experimentation allows him and other artists the chance to reveal other pieces of their personas. "I'm a country dude. I was born in the south and grew up in the country and that's a part of who I am, but there's also a lot of other elements to me."