If any act embodies the place to which country music has evolved in the new century, it is Rascal Flatts. Since their inception a decade ago in 1999, the trio has helped change the face of popular music. Their trademark sound--Gary LeVox's powerfully emotive lead vocals coupled with the soaring harmonies of Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney, set amid world-class arrangements and production, have made the band the standard bearers for cutting-edge country. Drawing on Nashville's best tunesmiths and their own enviable songwriting skills, they have released, in songs like "These Days," "Bless The Broken Road," "What Hurts The Most" and "Take Me There," some of the most important and successful music to come out of Nashville in recent years. Along the way, they have placed 10 #1 singles and 20 Top Tens, seen every one of their studio albums go multi-platinum, with total sales approaching 19 million, been the ACM and CMA top vocal group every year since 2003, and won multiple American Music Awards and People's Choice Awards.
Now, with Unstoppable, Gary, Joe Don and Jay release their most powerful and accessible album to date, taking their career and country music another large step forward. Produced by Dann Huff and Rascal Flatts, the record applies the group's formidable talents to a spectrum of songs that range from the pure drama of "Forever," which deals, as the group has so often in the past, with the pain of a broken relationship, to the pure fun of "Summer Nights," a romp through a world of coolers and bikinis guaranteed to be a concert favorite. The trio is as proud of the project as they've ever been.
"This is the best group of songs we've ever had," says Joe Don, and given the band's storied history, that is no small statement. Their deliberate approach is much of the reason.
"We started early on this record," says Jay, "so we could take the time to cut when we wanted to cut. We set out from the beginning to track when we got songs we believed in. That allowed us to take a deep breath now and then and take our time, and the great thing is every song means something very deeply to us."
That conviction is evident in every vocal.
"Songs like 'Why,' which deals with a very important and sensitive topic," says Gary, "put me in a place vocally where I've never been. Overall, these were songs I could pour all of myself into."
There is perhaps no male singer on the current country scene who can wring more from songs of loss and heartache than Gary, and Unstoppable gives him several opportunities to do just that. "Holdin' On" and "Close" both tell stories of people clinging to the remnants of lost love, while "Once" paints a portrait of loss that takes full advantage of his vocal prowess. All three agree, though, that Unstoppable's first single, "Here Comes Goodbye," covers the territory as well as it's been covered.
"It's one of the most powerful songs we've ever put out there," says Jay.
Along with first-rate song selection and the band's own contributions--Jay was co-writer on "Close" and the title track, which celebrates the sheer power of love, while Gary contributed "Summer Nights" and "Things That Matter," a look at moments with lasting importance--Unstoppable is notable for Rascal Flatts' continuing dedication to studio excellence.
"I think Dann and [engineer] Justin [Niebank] just get better and better with time," says Joe Don, "and they really pushed us to raise our game. This is the best sound we've ever had."
That excellence was reflected in Jay's bass playing and Joe Don's guitar work, as well as in their harmony vocals.
"Take a song like 'Summer Nights,'" says Gary. "Joe Don really stepped out and played some great guitar. Vocally, too, the track was good, but when Joe Don played that guitar riff and then he and Jay laid down their vocals, they really took the song to a better place. It upped the ante on it."
"Dann is such a great guitar player and producer," adds Joe Don. "He's totally got his thumb on country music right now, and he does inspire us to be better. We stretched a lot on this album, bringing in all our influences."