How does the trio's third album stack up to the past two?
A lot of living has happened in Lady Antebellum’s world since they delivered 2010’s “Need You Now”: their sophomore set garnered five Grammys and became the second best-selling album of 2010. They have grown from an opening act to headlining their own arena tour later this year. Plus, Charles Kelley settled into married life (having gotten hitched shortly before “Need You Now’s” release), and Hillary Scott got engaged this summer.
Those experiences all color Sept. 13's “Own The Night,” the country pop trio’s third set (Dave Haywood rounds out the group). Their confidence continues to grow both as songwriters and performers.
Lady A’s trump card has always been the dual vocals of Kelley and Scott. They are most effective when providing a counterpoint to each other, such as on “Need You Now” or, on this set, on “Dancing Away With My Heart,” a wistful tale of a past summer love, and “Cold As Stone.”
As the members of Lady A grow older and gather more life experience --Kelley just turned 30— they’re aging beautifully. They may not have been able to carry off a heartbreaker like “Cold As Stone” on their debut album, but they’ve weathered enough to pull it off now. Kelley’s voice has always had an older-than-his years, lived-in feel, which suits the song. And, as on “Dancing Away,” Scott’s delicate vocals provide the perfect flip side of the coin. A string/flute outro adds a nice touch, ending before it threatens to take the song over the top. The sweetness in Scott’s voice also served her well on first single, the innocence of “Just A Kiss.”
There are a number of other mid-tempo salutes to love that didn’t work out, such as “When You Were Mine” and “Wanted You More.” They’re balanced out nicely by the album’s uptempo numbers such as current single, the rule-the-world feel of “We Owned The Night,” as well as the jubilation of riding with your best girl on the gently swaying, toe-tapping, Zac Brown Band-like “Singing Me Home.”
Nowhere is the exuberance more evident than on “Friday Night”: it’s one of those songs, like Rascal Flatts “Summer Nights,” that is little more than an upbeat jumbled rush of words all concocted to take you to your happy place: “I want to be your friday night sweet ride/summertime sunshine/barefoot in the moonlight/I want to be your jackpot hotspot/wide open road in a candy apple rag top.” Pair that with the crunchy info and driving guitars and you’ve got the perfect live anthem.
Lady A once again paired with Paul Worley to produce the set. There are nice flourishes: a mandolin here, a B-3 organ riff there, to keep it all interesting, but the album overall could sorely use a dose of grit to give the tracks that extra oomph that made such past tunes as “Love Don’t Live Here,” “Need You Now” and “Run To You” the jewels they are. For the most part, the tunes here feel a little too freshly scrubbed of their rough edges.
As much as the members of Lady A are developing into prime songwriters for themselves and for other artists (Kelley and Haywood co-wrote Luke Bryan’s hit, “Do I”; Scott co-wrote Sara Evans’ smash “A Little Bit Stronger”), they’re smart enough to recognize a smash when they hear it. They end the album with “Heart of the World,” a song co-written by Tom Douglas, who co-wrote “Hello World,” previously recorded by the band, as well as Miranda Lambert’s “The House That Built Me.” In the tradition of great country tracks that celebrate quotidian life, Douglas salutes the every man (and woman), who fuels up for the day with coffee and the love of family to get through the day.