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New "Rewind" album moves Rascal Flatts forward

By Gary Graff
Digital First Media/@GraffonMusic

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After 15 years, nine Top 3 albums and a dozen No. 1 singles together, it's odd to hear Rascal Flatts talk about being "more involved together as a unit than ever before."

But that's exactly what happened with the country trio's latest album, "Rewind," according to guitarist Joe Don Rooney.

Rooney and his bandmates -- singer Gary LeVox and bassist Jay DeMarcus -- wound up producing 11 of the tracks that appear on "Rewind," between its standard and deluxe editions, themselves. The troupe had already expanded its range on the set, working not only with regular cohort Dann Huff in Nashville but also hitmaking rock producer Howard Benson in California, but it had a hankering to take a bit more control and ownership this time around and were happy to get the thumbs-up from their record company chief.

"He gave us the economy to do and do what we needed to do," recalls Rooney, 39, who co-founded Rascal Flatts during 1999 in Columbus, Ohio. "He said, 'Guys, don't worry about time frame or having to hand in the album at a certain time. You guys have fun, write the best songs you can write and call me when you're ready for me to hear some stuff.' We'd never been in that position before."

The result was the group's eighth consecutive No. 1 album, a project that took a year and a half, the longest Rascal Flatts has ever spent making an album, and a set that Rooney says feels more like a band album than any of its predecessors.

"The three of us were together a lot in the studio, which was really refreshing because the banter's always fun," Rooney recalls. "In years past I think we've been guilty of maybe working individually, but this time we did a lot with us three being in the same room together when we were each doing our things.

"Jay and Gary are very funny human beings; I love being around them, just to take the edge off. I think that's why we feel this album speaks a lot to that; it's about us and the fact we committed ourselves ot making it together."

The album also takes Rascal Flatts' music in different directions than before, especially the rock touches that Benson and his team brought to tracks such as the Top 5 single "Payback," "Aftermath" and "Powerful Stuff." Those stand out particularly in Rooney's guitar parts, though he says that the group did "a few things vocally that were fun and we'd never done before," while the song "DJ Tonight" brought in EDM flavors that Rascal Flatts "had to dial back" from the demo tape but still incorporated into the song.

Rooney says it was exciting, but he acknowledges some apprehension about how it would be received.

"I think any time you've had some success and what you've done has worked more than once, it's hard to change," he explains. "It's kind of like having a restaurant; you have certain menu items people come back for because they love those certain dishes, so you've got to keep those in there but you've got to add some new ones to keep it fresh, too.

"That's what we're trying to do. We're not trying to change so much that it's, 'Holy crap! Rascal Flatts -- where did they go?' I think when Gary LeVox sings and the three of us do our harmonies, you pretty much know who it is. But we want to try new things to keep it exciting for us -- and the fans too, I think."

And with "Rewind's" chart-topping debut, Rooney says the group only feels emboldened to keep stretching out in the future.

"I think that's the plan, if there is any kind of plan," he notes with a laugh. "We just want to stay relevant and have fun. We're still having fun; if the day comes when we wake up and go, 'God, this just isn't fun anymore,' that'll be the time to retire. But I think we're a long way from that yet."

Rascal Flatts, Sheryl Crow and Gloriana

7:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 21

DTE Energy Music Theatre, Sashabaw Road east of I-75, Independence Township

Tickets are $59.50-$125 pavilion, $29.75 lawn with a $99 lawn four-pack

Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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