We Got the Beat

Lady Antebellum fills a country music void

Lady Antebellum fills a country music void

News_Michael D. Clark_Lady Antebellum_album cover_CD cover
"Need You Now" by Lady Antebellum

Lady Antebellum, "Need You Now" (Capitol Nashville)

It’s no surprise that after only four years together Lady Antebellum have become the toast of Nashville.

Truth is, with Brooks & Dunn breaking up and the current extended hiatuses by Big & Rich and The Dixie Chicks, Music City was in need of new hit-making ensembles, and this talented trio was in the right place at the right time to pick up the slack.

The group's timing gets nearly Swiss-watch-like when you consider that their new album, Need You Now, was released within days of the band celebrating its first Grammy Award for first album single “I Run to You.” It shot to the top of the Billboard album chart, selling 481,000 copies. That's the biggest debut sales week for any album since Susan Boyle'I Dreamed a Dream bowed atop the list with 701,000 in November, and the best for a country album since Taylor Swift's Fearless opened at No. 1 on the Billboard with 592,000 copies in November 2008.

This all comes only months after the band earned single of the year (also for “I Run to You”) and vocal group of the year honors at the Country Music Association Awards. Lady Antebellum members Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott can’t officially wear Nashville’s crown, of course, unless “Need You Now” delivers hits in the machine-like manner that new albums by solo acts like Kenny Chesney or George Strait do.

That shouldn’t be a problem. For the newer tracks Lady Antebellum has reinvested the dividends from its two-year-old, country-chart-topping, self-titled debut into a little polish on the arrangements and more session player mastery in the studio. But the basic formula of ballads, light relationship plights and foot-stomping romps remains the constant that should take them to the top of the charts several times in 2010. 

Taking no chances, Need You Now, opens with the title track and lead single, chiming with twee chords and a soft, low guitar accompaniment. The lite-rock approach ensures that the sonic spotlight remains on Scott’s pining, spliced only by the aching background vocal response by Kelley.

Twenty five years ago, “Need You Now,” and other mid-tempo weepers like “Ready To Love Again” would have been a hit for Fleetwood Mac or John Waite on MTV. These days, songs like this—much like Bon Jovi and Darius Rucker—are now considered country.

Lady Antebellum is smart to incorporate the multi-voiced versatility that made Fleetwood Mac unique into the country format. It may be the quality that distances them from another new country acts like Sugarland. Where Scott’s strong femininity on lead vocals take the group into the pop mainstream with the Sheryl Crow-like “American Honey” and “Perfect Day,” Kelley’s turn on the microphone leads the group down much dustier country roads.

“Something 'Bout A Woman,” is Kelley’s banjo and steel homage to the fairer sex that was designed for two-stepping, while “Stars Tonight” lets him plug in the electric guitar and get a little bit rock n’ roll.

Amidst all this contrast, the slam-dunk fan favorites will be the Scott-Kelley combined harmonies on ballads like “If I Knew Then,” and “When You Got a Good Thing.” Love songs transcend radio genres and just make people want to dance close. The variety should ensure a couple more trips down the red carpet to accept awards for “Need You Now” over the next year.

Plus, what group is going to oppose them?

If you look at the RodeoHouston concert line-up, Lady Antebellum (at Reliant Stadium on March 15) are the only non-solo country ensemble besides the retiring Brooks & Dunn on the entire Nashville-heavy bill.

Talk about a crown waiting to be taken.