November 22, 2008
If an act’s musical identity can be distilled into five seconds, it may be the opening of “Praying For Daylight”, the debut single of Rascal Flatts and first cut on their chronologically arranged collection, Greatest Hits Volume 1. Before the music even comes in, we hear their distinctive harmonies. Gary LeVox’s nasally lead vocals were as prominent then as they are now, and are the common thread weaved throughout their first hits package. As time goes on, his vocals get more intense as they struggle to be heard over the increasingly bombastic production, but if you’re hooked on that sound from the get-go, you’ll probably love this package.
If you’re immune to his charms, the album’s much more of a mixed bag. As a hits collection, Greatest Hits Volume 1 manages to be definitive without being particularly distinctive, which is a reflection of the mediocrity that has become Rascal Flatts’ calling card. Much like Brooks & Dunn, the duo that has dominated the Vocal Duo category the same way Flatts has dominated Vocal Group, these guys have a lot of hits to their credit, but few of them are memorable.
“I Melt”, “My Wish”, “Stand”, “Mayberry.” All of them are here, but it’s hard to remember when they were around in the first place. On tracks like “Fast Cars and Freedom” and “Feels Like Today”, it’s understandable to think that you’re listening to a forgotten 80′s pop radio staple, until LeVox reaches for a high note and misses, and you’re reminded that C-list 80′s pop stars are among modern country’s most baffling muses.
Even when they get a song with a great hook, like “These Days”, it is weighed down by a throwaway line about the woman he still loves marrying a rodeo cowboy. “Skin (Sarabeth)” attempts to garner sympathy for a sick young girl, but the song is so contrived and manipulative that it’s easy to assume that the girl’s name was chosen because it rhymed so neatly with “scared to death.”
Among the maudlin weepers and not-quite-rockers are a trio of standout tracks that are worthy of discussion. Although it was first recorded by Mark Wills, “What Hurts the Most” is tailor-made for Rascal Flatts with a killer hook that lingers long after the song ends. “Bless the Broken Road” had been cut a few times before, but finally earned its rightful place as a country smash and wedding hall staple.
Best of all is “I’m Movin’ On,” the closing track from their debut album that launched them into stardom. Simple, eloquent and tastefully delivered, it is far and away their finest moment on record. Coming so early in their career, it’s also an interesting glimpse at what their career could have been.
It’s hard to find hope for what’s still to come, as this collection doesn’t include the tepid singles from their most recent studio album Still Feels Good, which would only reinforce the disposable nature of their work. Instead, we’re treated to a bonus disc with three Christmas songs: “White Christmas”, “Jingle Bell Rock” and “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” They sound exactly like what you’d imagine they’d sound like.