It’d be very easy to dismiss Lady Antebellum as Capitol Nashville’s attempt at capturing the same audience that Sugarland has managed to capture for Mercury. In a sense they are similar. Both groups are songwriting collectives, both groups got their start in Georgia, and both groups scored big debut singles. But that’s where the similarities end. Aside from Lady A (as they call themselves) being two dudes and one girl instead of the other way around, the trio alternates vocals between Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott. The group also has a deep pedigree in the music business. Kelley is the brother of successful pop singer Charles Kelley while Hillary is the daughter of Grammy winning vocalist Linda Davis. The third member of the group is lead guitarist Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley’s long-time friend.
After forming in 2006, the trio quickly attracted a following and signed with Capital Nashville in 2007. By the end of 2007, they had released their debut single “Love Don’t Live Here.“ Currently just outside of the Top 10 at country radio, the single has succeeded at planting the seed of anticipation for the trio’s self-titled debut album. The production has a ‘just-enough’ glossy sound backing up Kelley’s soulful lead vocal while the remaining members of Lady Antebellum showcase that this trio has been listening to the singer-songwriting super group records of the 1970s. “Lookin’ For A Good Time” finds Kelley singing lead vocals for the verses while Hillary Scott takes the leads on the chorus. It’s a catchy, feel-good, story about ‘not promising anything more than one night.’
“All We’d Ever Need” finds Scott and Kelley trading verses of a lyrically strong contemporary country song tailor-made for a show-stopping moment in concert. This is a song Tim and Faith or Garth and Trisha would’ve loved to have cut. It was the very first song that Scott/Kelley and guitarist Dave Haywood wrote together and after hearing it, I can see why they had reason to form a group. Scott takes the lead on “Long Gone” and it makes sense since it’s a song she wrote prior to creating Lady Antebellum with Haywood and Kelley. While Kelley has a rich baritone ’soulful’ voice, Scott’s own voice reminds me at times of Natalie Maines and of course her own mother.
Teaming up with superstar songwriter Tom Douglas, Lady Antebellum wrote “I Run To You” and despite the recycled song title, the song may just be the best track on the record. Hitting some nice falsetto notes Kelley and Scott take turns about singing all the ways one can run away from something and then by the chorus, they run away from pressures of life back to the security of love. A little optimistic? Maybe. But the driving pop/rock melody backing up the words is what really sells the song. It’s a hit. “Love’s Lookin’ Good On You” and “Slow Down Sister” both have fun, drive with the windows down melodies that fit summer radio playlists like a glove. They’re not deep but they’re entertaining. In what seems to be a time-tested country music tradition, Lady A ends their record with a philosophical, uplifting story song in “One Day You Will.” It’s another ‘event’ song for the trio and one that could do very well on radio if chosen as a single.
With big hooks, glossy pop-ish production from veteran Paul Worley and songwriter Victoria Shaw (”The River” by Garth Brooks), and strong songwriting, Lady Antebellum’s self-titled debut gives a label a lot to work with. Add in their comely looks and what we’ve got here is a package that is fully developed and ripe for country stardom. So while the trio is similar to Sugarland, they have more than enough artistic merit, and vocal power, to stand on their own as a real threat to knock Rascal Flatts off of its perch as the best contemporary country group.