Charles Kelley: ‘The Driver’

Kelley

Charles Kelley: The Driver

Lady Antebellum star Charles Kelley strikes out on his own with his first solo record, The Driver. At first, you may be wondering why the member of a mega-successful country trio would willingly leave his band mates in the dust to kick up his boot heels, but you won’t have to listen very long to resolve that burning question.

Kelley’s impressive solo debut features duets with Stevie Nicks, Dierks Bentley and Miranda Lambert, and contains captivating material from songwriting heavyweights Tom Petty (“Southern Accents”) and Chris Stapleton (“Lonely Girl”). Despite all of that, Kelley remains firmly planted in the driver’s seat on the album as his resounding vocal delivery effortlessly claims center stage.

The album’s shining moments include the haunting hit title track co-written with Eric Paslay and the gorgeous mid-tempo ballad “Round in Circles,” which Kelley co-penned with his singer-songwriter brother Josh Kelley. But it’s the surprising realism of the heart wrenching album closer “Leaving Nashville” that will not only give you chills, but will convince you why it was necessary for Kelley to deliver this first-class and important solo bow. The Driver serves as a much-needed reminder that there are still a few artists who firmly grasp the concept of how to make an album with a vital beginning, middle and end.

Lady Antebellum: ‘Golden’

Golden

Lady Antebellum: Golden

After losing steam trying to create a worthy follow up to the seminal hit “Need You Now,” Nashville’s multi-Grammy-winning Lady Antebellum returns with a vengeance on the plucky threesome’s fourth release, Golden. For a brief instant, Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley, and Dave Haywood seemed destined to become victims of mega success and overexposure (particularly after the release of 2011’s uninspired Own the Night), but one listen to Golden immediately declares that Lady A has returned to form and isn’t going anywhere in the imaginable future.

Armed with the summery first hit single “Downtown” and the superb mid-tempo follow up “Goodbye Town,” Lady A sounds refocused and more determined than ever to reclaim the country spotlight. Golden plainly illustrates how each of the members has come into their own as songwriters. All but four (most notably the arresting “It Ain’t Pretty,” written by newcomer Nicolle Galyon and hit maker Eric Paslay) of the album’s 12 tracks were co-penned by the band members themselves.

The true magic of Golden lies in the album’s ability to balance the subtle sadness of “Can’t Stand the Rain” (“I don’t know where the road you’re on is gonna end up/Or what this crazy world will put you through”) with the blatant longing of opening track “Get to Me” (“Don’t hit the brakes just come and crash through my horizon/Bring back the air I need to breathe”), which includes a markedly potent vocal performance from Scott. Imparting honest lyrics with spot-on harmonies swathed in infectious melodies, Golden is ultimately a shining example of what Lady Antebellum does best. With its seamless mingling of poignant ballads and upbeat tunes, It’s a stone cold winner from country music’s top trio.

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