Love and Theft first scored with fans when “Runaway” became a hit in 2010. Then a trio signed to Carolwood/Lyric Street Records, the band scored a critically acclaimed debut with World Wide Open, an album that showcased harmonic country/pop. After their label dissolved, the band became a duo with a member leaving the group, leaving Eric Gunderson and Stephen Barker Liles to keep the act going. They refocused, worked on their songwriting together and independently of each other and came back with a sound that recalls the first record’s harmonies but evolves their sound to an amalgam of modern country and pop sounds on this, their self-titled sophomore album and debut for RCA Records.
Lead single and Top 10 hit (#7 as of the week of the album’s release), “Angel Eyes” works as the perfect blend from the band’s past sound to their change of this record which features five songs co-written by Eric and/or Stephen with the rest of the songs coming from writers like Natalie Hemby, Shane McAnally, Cory Batten, Rivers Rutherford, Matt Jenkins, The Warren Brothers, Steven Dale Jones, and fellow artist Bryan White. “Angel Eyes” is a co-write between Gunderson, Jeff Coplan and EMI Nashville artist Eric Paslay (co-writer of “Barefoot Blue Jean Night” and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”) and it’s another fun little love song about a good girl who has a wild side that gets loose every once in a while.
“Inside Out” finds Love and Theft singing about a moment in life where you’ve just met an attractive person and the emotions that come with wanting to make that moment become a date and more. There’s a jovial melody which leads this song to feel like a huge potential summertime hit (2013 perhaps?). “Running Out Of Air” feels like a bother potential hit with the moody, swampy melody being accentuated with mandolins and b-3 in Josh Leo’s production mix a long with a little cow bell (can there ever be enough cow bell?), there’s a vocal staccato melody here and a lyric about a guy who cannot get over the girl who has him all in knots and finding little things like breathing hard to do. It’s a nice play on love lost and the sadness that can accompany those emotions and instead of being a moody ballad, it has a little tempo to it and right into a pocket that is part of my personal musical wheelhouse.
Not to be outdone as potential follow-up singles are virtually the rest of the album. From the soulful balladry of the Bryan White, Neil Thrasher and Derek George co-write “Amen” and the Natalie Hemby and Danial Tashian’s “Town Drunk to the almost lead single “She’s Amazing” (Jason Sellers, Michael Dulaney and Matt Jenkins co-wrote this one) and the closing track written by LnT and The Warren Brothers, “Girls Look Hot In Trucks,” there’s a lot of potential hits on the album. Now, that’s not to say that “If You Ever Get Lonely” (co-written by Matchboox Twenty’s guitarist Kyle Cook and 80s pop star John Waite) isn’t very good song or potential hit because it’s clearly both (Michael Dulaney and Stephen Dale Jones co-wrote it too). Jones also co-wrote “Thinking of You (and Me)” for the project.
“Town Drunk” is a particularly strong song, something I’ve come to expect when seeing Natalie Hemby’s name in the credits (she is a frequent co-writer of Miranda Lambert). “Town Drunk” tells a great story about a girl who escapes the bad situation of her family and goes onto a new story. I honestly can picture a little movie of the week being made behind the song. Everything about Love and Theft positions this duo to become one of the top duos in country music with an album of strong melodies, harmonies and tight songwriting. The album is largely devoid of cliches (except for perhaps the two closing tracks with “Girls” in the title and if you get past the titles you’ll see they’re not very cliche either).
Blending everything together is the steady production hand of veteran Nashville producer Josh Leo, who is known for producing Alabama, Restless Heart and Emerson Drive, among others. In other words, Josh Leo was the perfect choice to showcase the duo’s musicality and harmony and his steady hand has helped guide the duo to a rebirth that leaves them refreshed and ready to break out.
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