Country Jukebox Jury LP: Lady A – What A Song Can Do

The Lady A model of commercial country music – man and women duetting in harmony, or putting different sides of the same relationship – is probably one that Scott Borchetta saw dollar signs in. It must be noted that Big Machine, the label on which this album is released, is now owned by a Korean company; I bet Korean fans will go wild for Lady A as they love ballads.

Like A Lady (‘sipping on tequila with my Levis on’) is basically Now That’s What I Call Mum Jeans, sold convincingly by mother-of-three Hillary Scott. File alongside Downtown and Bartender. Things He Handed Down is a smart song about intergenerational love that Thomas Rhett could have made a fortune with if he hadn’t let Lady A record it. I imagine this can be paired with Hello World in concert.

That’s how I am viewing this collection of songs: new versions of old tropes but this time Big Machine makes back an advance, not Capitol Nashville. Talk of This Town is a typical Nicolle Galyon song (much like It Ain’t Pretty) where the trio sing of things which provide a town with gossip and conversation in checkout lines where ‘everybody’s takin’ sides’. It is such a Lady Antebellum song they are in danger of plagiarising themselves.

Hillary Lindsey was in the room for Fire, a song narrated by Hillary about love and stuff. This will make their setlist just after American Honey set to different words and music but the same key of D-flat. The second verse adds a new spin by introducing a guy chasing his dreams. The hook (‘Fi-RE! Fi-RE!’) is catchy and the sonic bed appeals to daughters of their target demographic: the 35-54-year-old woman driving a people carrier.

Amy Wadge and Natalie Hemby help the band write Worship What I Hate, an immaculate piano-led ballad with a minute-long outro that begins with Hillary looking in the mirror ‘wishing for a brand new body…seeing every flaw’. This really is new: body positivity and self-empowerment sung with syrupy strings that will certainly find an audience. Verse two introduces red wine and ‘a button on a screen’, forming bad habits. It’s very American, although Ward Thomas have put out a lot of this sort of thing.

Chance of Rain is the rock ballad on the first half of the album, which reminds me of Can’t Stand The Rain (the clue’s in the title). The metaphor here is that you need to embrace the summer even though it might rain. It doesn’t make it any less excellent as an example of contemporary Nashville pop music. It doesn’t sound current, though, which may doom the project in much the same way that Tim McGraw will always be the Live Like You Were Dying guy.

The title track, written by Charles with Ryan Hurd, Laura Veltz and Sam Ellis – a new name to me but he’s worked with Ingrid Andress and Kane Brown – is a songwriting exercise set to a poppy beat. If you have driving, lighters, love, peace of mind, dancing, crying and kissing on your bingo card, have a drink. I wonder if they were tempted to put ‘help us buy a house because that’s what Need You Now allowed us to do’ on the card or in the middle eight. None of these seven songs will make them as much money but good on Big Machine for funding their efforts. They’re great live.

The second ‘side’ of the album completes the project, copying the current Big Machine strategy of releasing music in clumps; Carly Pearce, Thomas Rhett and Brett Young all put out EPs as part of a two-pronged attack. The first of the seven new tracks is acoustic ballad Where Would I Be, the album’s sole outside write by Natalie Hemby and David Garcia. It is sung deliciously by a band who have made millions with soft tunes like this aimed at adults as they sip wine after a hard day at the desk.

Friends Don’t Let Friends (‘drink alone’) includes both Carly and TR, as well as Darius Rucker, in a trick first attempted on Straight To Hell, a song notionally by Charles’ golf buddy Darius but featuring three other male singers. In a quest to make an ‘Event Release’, the voices pile up on top of each other, and Lady A seem to drop out entirely for the final verse. Six vocalists are unnecessary but I am sure the accountants love it. TR wrote this three-chord song with Ashley Gorley, Charles and his mate Julian Bunetta.

Swore I Was Leaving is a fine meet-cute waltz sung by Charles and Hillary which ends the album optimistically. In Waves is Lady A by numbers, with fluttering harmonies and a driving-friendly chorus that sets up the heartache felt by Charles in his vocal. Hillary almost answers that song from the other perspective of ‘heartbreak hell’ on the poppy You Keep Thinking That, while you can tell that Chris Young’s go-to guy Corey Crowder had a hand in Be That For You, a song of fidelity with a very long outro and a supercharged Dann Huff solo, which is gagging to be played at a wedding.

The fine-structured Workin On This Love was written and sung by Dave, whom I still remember being cheered at a C2C performance by, as Charles put it, ‘your fan club!!’ The song starts with a steel-stringed acoustic guitar and Dave singing tenderly about how ‘a firm foundation is hard to break’. He’s been waiting over a decade for this song, which has gospel overtones and plenty of metaphors to emphasise the relationship with his wife.

They will tour this album. Everyone will want to hear the classics, and one or two tracks from this record may well join them as classics, but at this stage of their career nobody will become a fan of a band who know their place in the market. That’s what their songs can do.

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