On their fourth studio album, Nashville harmony trio Lady Antebellum takes a sly step forward with a more polished sound and a few subtle changes in their songwriting style. Golden, which is available now, propels the seven-time Grammy winners with twelve new songs willing to change things up while making sure not to take away from the group’s famous chemistry.
Co-producing the project with long-term collaborator Paul Worley (The Band Perry, Sara Evans), the members of Lady A – Hillary Scott (vocals), Charles Kelley (vocals) and Dave Haywood (guitar, vocals) – found inspiration for the new project through the moments they shared onstage during their recent Own The Night World Tour. And from an energy standpoint, Golden rides high on finely executed dramatics and an upbeat tempo.
The urgency of songs like “Get To Me,” featuring Hillary on lead vocals, and the Charles-lead, “Better Off Now (That You’re Gone),” provide immediate rewards with tunes tailor-made for packed arenas. While heartland, Tom Petty-influenced chords ring out loud, Lady A maintains their calling card harmonies and dynamic interaction. The album’s lead single, “Downtown,” plays off a funky R&B hook and infectious melodies. By the time the song’s soulful summertime, sing-along chorus hits, you can bet the crowd will most certainly be dancing. On the snapping, drum powered, “Can’t Stand The Rain,” Charles’ evocative voice sounds older and wiser as Hillary joins in backing harmony. The subtle shift here is that these songs, and many of those on Golden, follow a single narrative instead of the back-and-forth Hillary and Charles perfected on past hits like “Need You Now” and “Just A Kiss.”
The coffee shop love story, “Nothin’ Like The First Time,” where mandolin and a rolling chorus feel like warm sunshine, and the piano laced, “All For Love,” re-enact the dynamics Lady A has perfected as Dave provides stirring background instrumentation to complement the lyrical conversations. However, these instances are few and far between. Most songs on Golden focus on the thoughts and feelings of a single character. There ain’t nowhere I can look that doesn’t hurt, Charles sings introspectively like a new country Bruce Springsteen on “Goodbye Town.” Hillary basks in the carefree nostalgia of youthful summer love on “Long Teenage Goodbye,” and on “It Ain’t Pretty,” the album’s best song, her lonely story is heartbreaking and almost unbearably fragile. Over stark production and a minor key piano, lines like, [I] peeled the corners off a cocktail napkin, depict the anxious, uncomfortable Saturday night with stinging clarity. With Hillary, Charles and Dave often providing harmonies for each other, the shift in storytelling doesn’t feel like a huge departure from the sound they’ve developed up to this point.
Golden holds many tender and thoughtful moments. The Dixieland soul of the title-track sparkles with acoustic guitars while Charles’ expressive vocal matches the song’s loving feel. And the rootsy, “Better Man,” explores a sense of pride in being able to love someone incredibly deep. I’m a better man since I’ve loved you, Charles sings here. The album’s sunny-side feel goes down easy and Lady A even gets a little idealistic on the project’s bright closing song, “Generation Away.” It’s a new chapter to their story, but with a precise and subtle shift, Golden allows Lady A to grow while maintaining all the elements fans love most about the group.
Key Tracks – “Better Man,” “It Ain’t Pretty,” “Downtown,” “Golden”