Monday, August 10, 2009

Week 1: James Recommends Rascal Flatts


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Is this thing on?

Perfect. Well, I hope you've already read my introduction and the rules for the MEP (Music Expansion Project). If you haven't, now would be a great time to do so! If you have, let's get this thing started.

This subject of my recommendations for this week is Rascal Flatts. Before I make any recommendations, though, let me add a bit of a prologue; if you just don't care, skip on ahead. Still here? Awesome. Let me start out by saying that Rascal Flatts is, by no means, my favorite band in the world. In fact, when all is said and done they probably don't even crack the top ten. So why, out of all the bands/musicians in the world, have I decided to start my part in the MEP by recommending their 10 best songs? Well, let me put it this way: this project owes half of its existence to Rascal Flatts.

You see, earlier this week, my good friend/co-writer Donell and I were discussing music, as we had done many times before. He was telling me how he had recently been on a Madonna binge, and I was telling him that I'd never willingly listened to a Madonna song in my life. Then I was telling him how I had heard an awesome Rascal Flatts song on the radio, and he was saying he had heard of them but wasn't much of a Country fan; blah blah blah, long story short, we made a deal: I would listen to 10 Madonna songs if he would listen to 10 Rascal Flatts songs. And thus was born the MEP.

So, Rascal Flatts. I think the most accurate description I could give them would be this: Country music for people who don't like Country. And that's exactly what they are. Pop-Country. The diet version of Honkeytonk. You still have good ol' steel guitars and just a hint of that hillbilly twang, but really, you're feeding yourself a Top-40 piece of fried chicken alongside a big plate of Mainstream cole slaw. But who's saying that's a bad thing? Far be it from me.

Rascal Flatts make some damn good music. Or, I should say, Rascall Flatts make some damn good music. When they're on the top of their game, they can stand toe-to-toe with the very best musicians out there, both lyrically and musically. And when they're not? Well, it's just another sappy love song that makes you want to hit the "next" button on your stereo and roll your eyes. I'll admit, at first I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to find 10 tracks that I could recommend with good conscience. But no worries, there's plenty of goodness to go around. Tracks 1-6 are what I would call All-Time-Classics, while 7-10 are purdy darn good themselves. Without further adieu, I present the list (note: clicking song titles will let you listen to them for free!):

1: What Hurts the Most (Me and My Gang)
"What Hurts The Most" is, by far, the pinnacle of Rascal Flatts' musical achievement. Stunningly tragic melodies/harmonies and heartbreakingly identifiable lyrics not only place this song at the top of this list, but also put it in the running for one of my favorite songs of all time. I can't tell you how many times I've sung along with tears in my eyes after once again failing to say what I wanted to say to that one girl who gave me butterflies and left me speechless. Here's to you.

2: My Wish (Me and My Gang)
I only recently heard this song for the first time, and was pretty well blown away. It's bittersweet and absolutely inspiring at the same time, which is a rare combination for sure. While all the lyrics are top notch, pay special attention to the last few lines of the chorus: they still give me chills.

3: Stand (Me and My Gang)
This was the song that originally introduced me to Rascal Flatts. As a matter of fact, it introduced me to Country in general. I remember driving in the backseat of my brother's girlfriend's car and thinking "Oh no! Not Country!" About a minute in, though, I was hooked. Great music, and pretty inspirational lyrics.

4: Life is A Highway (Cover)
Featured on the Cars soundtrack, this song was not originally composed or recorded by Rascal Flatts. But since it's better than the original, I've decided to count it for consideration and it overachieves to become #4 on the list. No doubt, you're familiar with the lyrics, but if you haven't heard this musical rendition of the timeless classic, you're missing out.

5: Here Comes Goodbye (Unstoppable)
Another song I've only recently become acquainted with. On average, it's a good-not-great song. The one truly stellar part of the song is the chorus, and that's what bumps it up to #5. An unpredictable melody combines to make normally-run-of-the-mill lyrics simply stunning.

6: Where You Are (Feels Like Today)
I remember driving out to California and listening to a mix CD that my friend Yishi had provided when this song came on for the first time. At the time, I was hopelessly crushed on this girl in LA, and I watched as the lyrics to this happy song transformed into something sad. Oh well. Until I looked up the lyrics, I thought one line in the chorus went "You're the loveliest fear," when in reality it goes "Your love lifts me up." I like my version more, so the song gets bumped to lowly #7.

7: Bless The Broken Road (Feels Like Today)
Bless The Broken Road begins the part of the list that contains listenable songs that won't blow you away. Decent melodies/harmonies, and pretty good-if-not-slightly-kitschy lyrics make this worth a listen.

8: I'm Movin' On (Rascal Flatts)
Sad music is appropriate for sad lyrics.

9: Fast Cars and Freedom (Feels Like Today)
Slightly catchy; a fun song that won't make your jaw drop.

10: Here (Still Feels Good)
Not their most complete effort, but it does enough to make the top 10.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, there you have it. These ten songs should pretty well familiarize you with Rascal Flatts. If you're not a fan of Country, I'm hoping they'll be like a gateway drug for you, because guess what's coming next week?

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