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Lady Antebellum Thinks Small on ‘Golden’
There’s no mistaking the sound of Lady Antebellum. At its heart lie three unique voices, soloing and blending on songs that seem to come alive through their performance. But listen carefully to their latest album, Golden, and you’ll hear that it departs subtly from much of what they’ve recorded previously.
Start with “Better Off Now That You’re Gone, “ written and originally recorded by Will Hoge. Though Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott make it their own, one element held over from the writer’s version – a harmonica solo, played by Hoge himself. “We wanted to have him on the track,“ Scott said. “He did the harmonica on the original track and it needed it.”
“We’d never used a harmonica before, so it was fun to hear that, because I’d never heard that on our music before,“ Haywood added. “Right when he started
playing it was like, ‘Wow, this is so cool, we’ve never really had a chance to go down that road .’”
“Trying new instruments is fun for me,“ concurred producer Paul Worley. “They have to think, ‘OK, we’ve got to be doing this live, and none of us play harmonica, so there needs to be a good reason for it to be there.’ It was Charles’ idea to bring Will in. I think he called Will and Will was over there in a couple of hours. Then we thought about it, and went back of forth asking ourselves if it was the right thing. And it seemed to feel like it was.”
This detail points to perhaps the most notable change on Golden: the instrumentation. According to Worley, the songs mostly include six instruments — bass drums, two electric guitars, two acoustic guitars and keyboard.
“Our last two records were a little bit more serious,“ Kelley said. “It was time to change up the pace a little bit. We produced it a lot less this time around. We spent more time on it, ironically, but we didn’t do as many overdubs, didn’t have big string sections and spent more time on the vocals.”
“Each song, for the batch we picked, they sounded full with our basic instrumentation,“ Haywood noted. “We go into a pre-production rehearsal space before we go into the studio to work these songs up. Once did that, it was pretty obvious (that) these are the instruments, this is what we need. Stay out of the way. We wanted to vocals to really shine. That’s what was really important for this record. The vocals, the harmonies, the lyrics are really leading the charge. It’s because we felt we had better songs. ‘It Ain’t Pretty’ is pretty much a little drum and piano for the whole song.”
Golden draws comparisons to Lady A’s first album, with that stripped down sound and emphasis on vocals, but it naturally surpasses the group’s debut. “All of them have grown vocally,“ Paul says. “Dave is much more of a presence as well. This is more of a harmony album than the first album.”
“The tones are warmer,“ Charles muses. “We’ve had a lot people say it’s more ‘70s, kind of rock driven. I think a lot of that is not cluttering it up with 20 electric guitars or giant string sections. It’s a little bit simpler and organic and lets the vocals really shine through. We even tried not to take the keys up too high, where you’re singing in the stratosphere, instead you’re singing warmer, in your sweet spot for songs like the title track ‘Golden .’”
For more on Lady Antebellum’s Golden, see the June/July 2013 issue of CMA Close Up.