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Album Review

Lady Antebellum hews to safe side

January 25, 2010

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This country band’s eponymous 2008 debut was an unexpected treat. The fresh-faced singing-songwriting trio of Hillary Scott, Dave Haywood, and Charles Kelley managed to conform to current Nashville ideology without being wholly constrained by it, adding organic accents of R&B, pop, and rock. They occasionally broke from the pack in interesting ways lyrically and benefited from a perfect balance of male-female vocal flavors: The bittersweet and tangy Scott paired with the smoky Kelley.

But to quote the last song on the album, “Ready to Love Again,’’ the band is playing on the safe side on its less vibrant and surprising sophomore release.

The trio still sounds terrific, with Kelley and Scott’s rich blend coming across even more deeply felt on songs like the ambling “American Honey.’’ But where there was a bit more snap and swagger to the production, the songs now hew more closely to the middle of the contemporary country radio road.

It all goes down easy enough, from the midtempo nostalgia fest of “Perfect Day’’ (anchored by Scott’s cherished memories); to the gleeful guitar grind of “Stars Tonight,’’ the shouted chorus of which is primed for a hearty live singalong; to the wistful happy-ever-after of “When You Got a Good Thing.’’ Less of it sticks to your ribs this time out.

The title track is the real keeper, encapsulating the group’s grab-bag DNA (Dixie Chicks-Eagles-Beatles) as a sense of hazy yearning is backed by strong melody, warm harmonies, a hot slide guitar, and sparkly piano. (Out tomorrow)

SARAH RODMAN

Country
Lady Antebellum Need You Now
Capitol/EMI
ESSENTIAL “Need You Now’’