Thomas Rhett brings new-age country act to Cleveland Combo-ing country

By John Benson

One listen to radio these days and it’s pretty obvious a new generation of country artist is emerging. At Top 40 radio, the Nelly remix of Florida Georgia Line’s “Cruise” is quickly becoming this summer’s ubiquitous hit.

One of the up-and-coming acts reforming the Music City sound is Thomas Rhett [born Thomas Rhett Atkins], who is currently opening for Jason Aldean. The bill rolls into Northeast Ohio for a show Friday show at Blossom Music Center.

Anyone attending the show will catch Rhett, son of country artist Rhett Atkins, playing a cover of Justin Timberlake’s “Suit & Tie.”

“I think it’s a cool bit because I’ve always listened to other genres of music,” said Rhett, calling from Cincinnati. “I saw Justin Timberlake and Jay-Z play Chicago a couple of weeks go. It was inspiring to watch.”

It turns out not everyone is ready for the hip-hop country movement. Rhett said he received some dismayed tweets from fans about listening to rap and even selling out.

“If I just stick to one genre, I don’t feel like I’m branching out,” Rhett said. “I’m young, 23 years old, and the things I was listening to on my iPod in the sixth grade are a lot different form what Merle Haggard listened to when he was that young. That’s kind of what my generation is doing. Us kids, we grew up listening to Will Smith and Nelly and Green Day and Third Eye Blind, as well as country too.”

The starting gun on Rhett’s career is about to go off in October with the release of his full-length debut, “It Goes Like This.” The material on the album, which doesn’t contain any hip-hop, is varied.

Rhett said this is due to his diverse influences, as well as the fact he had three different producers work on the project. As for his favorites tunes on the album, there’s the anthemic “Sorry For Partying” and the rocking “All-American Middle Class White Boy.”

Fans attending the upcoming show are bound to hear new tunes, as well as his three top 10 single releases “Something to Do with My Hands,” “It Goes Like This” and “Beer with Jesus.” The latter track stirred up quite a bit of controversy last year for those who took offense by WWJD – what would Jesus drink?

“When I put that song out, I was very na Øve to what people would actually think about it,” Rhett said. “I was getting blasted on Twitter and Facebook. Some of it was good but mostly it was bad. There came a point where I was like maybe I did write this song for the wrong reasons.

“And then I kind of had this revelation. It’s like God reminded me – and I know this sounds crazy – this song was written for a purpose. Every night in the crowd I’ll look out and see someone either crying or closing their eyes and rocking or just listening with the most intent eyes you’ve ever seen. Those moments really solidify why I wrote that song.”

Rhett stands behind the decision to release “Beer with Jesus.” So what about writing its follow-up, “Vodka with Jesus” or “Tequila with Jesus?”

He laughed, “I think I’m off the liquor and Jesus songs.”

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