Lady Antebellum started out trying to take their fans by surprise, the band came up with their name during an early photo shoot, where they used a southern mansion as a backdrop. They knew the name, which, admittedly, creates the idea of a girl group, would confuse fans. “That was partly why we thought it was cool,” instrumentalist Dave Haywood said.
While there is nothing necessarily surprising on Lady Antebellum’s new album “Need You Now,” released on Jan. 26, the group undoubtedly met fan expectations and did a solid job of creating a cohesive album worthy of their reputation.
The trio, composed of Charles Kelley (lead/back vocals), Hillary Scott (lead/back vocals), daughter of country artist Linda Davis, and Dave Haywood (guitar, piano, mandolin, back vocals), formed in 2006 when Scott met Kelley in a downtown Nashville bar. The two got to talking, and decided to start writing songs together at Kelley’s apartment, where he lived with Haywood, Kelley later admitted that he was, at first, just trying to get a date out of the singer.
Fortunately, the two found they actually collaborated well together lyrically, while Haywood, the real glue behind the band, skillfully blended the vocals with his numerous instrumental talents.
The formula worked well, in July 2007, after months of performing at local venues in the Nashville area, the band was signed with recording company Capitol Nashville. Their first single, “Love Don’t Live Here,” reached number three on country charts; their self-titled debut album, released in April 2008, was the first by a new group to appear at number one on the Billboard Country Album charts, and went platinum (sold 1M plus copies) by October 2009.
Their sophomore album looks to be no less promising. The single “Need You Now,” used as the opening track, spent five weeks at number one on country charts. The song captures a sense of longing, blending a heartfelt feel with more down-home realities, “I’m a little drunk and I need you now” The following “Our Kind of Love” effectively hooks the listener with catchy piano playing, but falls short of doing anything impressive by sticking to corny lyrics like “what we got is just like driving on an open highway” and unremarkable harmonies.
The vocals are strong, to be sure, but the songs are missing the spark that makes some music truly great.
Tracks like “American Honey,” the other single on the album, which features notable playing in the intro and imparts a worn-out yet relatable sentiment of returning to better days, and “When You Got a Good Thing” come off as sweetly sappy. More upbeat songs like “Stars Tonight,” a crowd pleaser that, despite having a heavier sound than most of the tracks, blands itself out by using stale lyrics like “Girls in their heels and skinny pair of blue jeans” and a few too many “yeah, yeah, yeah’s, and “Something ‘Bout Women” are suitable to their fan base, sure, but also inspire the question, “What else is new?”
Sticking to tried and true yet somewhat tired country/pop compositional formulas happens frequently in this album, though that’s not to say it does not have its moments.
In “Hello World,” a song about finding wonder in the world despite sometimes feeling alone and damaged, provides a soft break in the album. Near the end of the track, an atmospheric crescendo (Arcade Fire, anyone?) works well to bring out the feeling behind the song, it seems to have a little more soul than the rest.
“Perfect Day” utilizes an appealingly more gritty guitar sound than in the rest of the album, though it gets just a little too peppy for comfort once the “na na na”s take over, while, happily, “Love This Pain” and “Ready to Love Again,” the final track, manage to be relevant and capture emotion without falling into the trap of lyrical cliché.
Once the album begins, the tracks have a tendency to run together sound-wise, but overall are still well paced and, at times, diverse, long standing fans will not be disappointed with the effort. The sound is classically country pop, complete with the ever-present pedal steel guitar, but that’s not so much of a bad thing, if that’s your thing.
Lady A. (as they’re known by fans) has been recognized as the best new group of 2008 by the Academy of Country Music and the Country Music Association and the Vocal Group of the year of 2009 (also by the Country Music Association). Judging by their current work, it looks like their success will continue.