Rascal Flatts remain country music's most consistently successful band of the last decade, but the trio's new album, "Nothing Like This," finds them at a crossroads.
Their longtime record label, Disney's Lyric Street Records, closed in April 2010; even before that, band members Gary LeVox, Jay DeMarcus and Joe Don Rooney dropped from the country awards lists and saw their multi-platinum sales slip.
Moving to upstart Big Machine Records, home of Taylor Swift and the label that revived Reba McEntire's recording career, Rascal Flatts sound newly inspired. They strip away the bombast of recent albums and slip into a breezier, more melodic sound that brings out their best qualities.
On the surface, not much has changed: The band still works with co-producer Dann Huff, and they draw on many of the same co-writers, although bringing in Natasha Bedingfield for a duet on "Easy" is new.
But ballads like "I Won't Let Go" show a new maturity, a good move judging from how well it showcases LeVox's tenor. Best of all, the trio sounds like they're having fun again - something that didn't show in the last year or two. That feeling uplifts "Nothing Like This," making it a career milestone just when the band needed one.
CHECK OUT THIS TRACK: "They Try" cops a relaxed, soul-country groove peppered by sitar accents that give it a 1970s flavor. The swaying rhythm brings out a flow in LeVox's voice he's never previously dared show.