Lady A secured its crossover star status with country- and AC-approved hits “Need You Now” and “Just a Kiss,” but little in the group’s repertoire has elevated it beyond midtempo maestros — until now.
The trio’s fifth proper album, 747, ditches piano-heavy ballads in favor of fully fleshed-out productions and a notable boost in confidence. Leadoff track “Long Stretch of Love,” a crisp, pulsating rocker that highlights Lady Antebellum’s knack for memorable song structure, exudes this newfound self-assurance. Later, co-lead singers Hillary Scott and Charles Kelley perfect their harmonizing on the fiddle-laced “Down South,” an ode to the band’s Nashville roots; “Lie With Me,” a bittersweet tale of not wanting to let go, wouldn’t sound out of place in a country version of a John Hughes movie (don’t worry, that’s a good thing). Producer Nathan Chapman, who took over the reins from Dixie Chicks producer Paul Worley, deserves a lot of credit for leading the aural explorations.
But not everything on 747 soars. Soul-searching ballad “One Great Mystery” lands with a tepid thud (“Maybe there’s some other life out there/But as long as you’re here with me, baby, I don’t really care”). Requisite barroom stomper “Freestyle” is filler next to the mischievous fun of lead single “Bartender,” in which a heartbroken Scott declares, “What I’m really needing now/Is a double shot of Crown.”
The group’s move away from its comfort zone is a worthy venture. Any band that clings to a formula for success — they’ve won seven Grammys and sold more than 9.7 million albums, according to Nielsen SoundScan — runs the risk of boring fans with every new release. But Lady A has always demonstrated the potential to deliver a little something more. On 747, we finally get a glimpse of it.
This article originally appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of Billboard.