New music from the multi-award winning trio Lady Antebellum is always highly anticipated and “ Ocean”, their eighth studio album is no exception. But what makes this release even more interesting is that it’s their first on their new label ( Big Machine) and also sees them using Dan Huff as producer for the first time (he also plays multiple instruments on several tracks too, incidentally).
But these new beginnings thankfully don’t mean a departure from what we have grown to love and expect from a Lady A album, which was made clear on the six tracks made available ahead of album release day. Yes, ” Ocean” incorporates everything their fans expect to hear including fabulous lead vocals from both Charles and Hilary, their trademark harmonies and superb musicianship from Dave ( Haywood ) on a variety of instruments including lead guitar, piano and mandolin. Once again there’s great mix of heart wrenching ballads and catchy uptempo numbers , and the arrangements throughout are, as always really beautiful and varied.
Just over half of the tracks see at least one of the three appear on the writing credits, and although Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood have been working together for thirteen years this release has been touted as their most personal music to date with Charles saying earlier this year that the “ the theme of this record is definitely bearing our souls and our journey”. In general it is a deeper and more reflective album than we have seen from them before. Further writing contributions come from some of Nashville’s finest (Ryan Hurd, Laura Veltz, Daniel Tashian, Chris DeStefano, Hillary Lindsey and the late Busbee included) and I was particularly happy to see UK’s Amy Wadge’s name in there too, as well as Tenille Townes who is fast becoming one of my favourite artists. It seems to me that the outside cuts on this album were chosen not only as they are great songs but also because they echo the sentiments of the band’s own writes……none more so that “ The Thing That Wrecks You” , the highly anticipated track which sees the trio collaborating vocally with Little Big Town, another band renown of course for their tight harmonies. And what a joy it is to hear the intermingling of so many incredible country voices on this song which is so full of remorse. One of the lengthier songs on this collection, I hear something new every time I listen to it, whether its in the lyrics or the atmospheric arrangement which is as aching as Charles’ lead vocals.
While several of the songs share common inspiration and subject matter, that is where their similarity ends, it binds them together but is never repetitive in any way.
Take the album’s two break up songs for example which are track listed back to back at the very start, with its highly successful lead single “ What If I Never Get Over You”being followed by “ Pictures”. Both bring a fresh perspective to the subject, the former seeing both parties expressing their concerns that they will be unable to move on ( “what if your love was my one and only shot?” ) with Charles and Hilary sharing lead vocals, a formula that works well for the group and which is used on several of the album’s songs, the latter examining how deceptive photographs can be, portraying things in a rosy light when that’s far from the truth. This is particularly relevant in today’s social media obsessed world ….” the camera doesn’t show how much it hurt “…. ” in-between the flashes it was sad, it was tragic.” I particularly like how the happy, “ jangly pop” sound of this song’s production belies its underlying message, just like the pictures they sing about do.
Then there’s the theme running through many of the remaining eleven tracks of reflecting on life and being grateful for what you have, which is expressed in a great variety of formats lyrically and given different treatment sonically. Whether it’s the celebration of enduring love that Charles sings about in “ Crazy Love” with its wonderful trad country instrumentation, the uptempo guitar/drum led “ Boots” with its anthemic feel that sees him swearing he’ll never walk away from his partner, Hillary’s stunning vocals on the R’n’B infused “ Mansion” , in which she which she sings about her partner’s love being all she needs or the homage to the families they leave behind when hitting the road in the gorgeous ballad “ What I’m Leaving For” which incorporates some beautiful mandolin and atmospheric steel, these are songs which I assume are particularly relevant to where the band are now, both professionally and personally.
But to my mind the most heartfelt album track with gratitude at its core is the stunning “ Be Patient With My Love” which was apparently the first song written for the album . “ Might have done it this time. Might have drank too much wine. Might have said something that I can’t take back” Charles sings in what is described in the press release as an “ ode to commitment” …..he’s coming to his senses and realising what he stands to lose, begging his partner to bear with him while he sorts himself out. The angst in his voice is incredible and almost tangible.
In fact, listening to the album’s gorgeous piano-led title track it struck me that the title track “ Ocean” could well be the flip side or even the precursor to this plea….Hilary voicing her wish that her partner would connect with her and stop pushing her away in a song that uses some clever sea analogies….” I’m so tired of the shore, let me in ”……whatever you think about that possible connection, both are songs that stood out to me immediately on first listen for so many reasons.
One track that I feel doesn’t really fit in this otherwise very cohesive collection is “ You Can Do You”, an upbeat party track with its message that there are no barriers when it comes to having a good time , and while i have no doubt that this will go down a storm live it lacks the reflective element expressed on remainder of the album’s songs , and not only on the heartbreakers or ballads either, as well as the afore mentioned “ Boots” just give “ Alright” with is wonderful, positive message, a listen for example.
But in all honesty this is my only criticism of “ Ocean”, an album which I am loving and is definitely more that a collection of great songs, it’s a body of work that I recommend you diving into and listening to from start to finish rather that fishing out random songs to listen to in isolation.
Track Listing and Songwriters
1. “What If I Never Get Over You” (Sam Ellis, Jon Green, Ryan Hurd, Laura Veltz)
2. “Pictures” (Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott, Sarah Buxton, Corey Crowder)
3. “Crazy Love” (Charles Kelley, Nathan Chapman)
4. “You Can Do You” (Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Corey Crowder, Jordan Schmidt)
5. “What I’m Leaving For” (Sam Ellis, Micah Premnath, Laura Veltz)
6. “Be Patient With My Love” (Charles Kelley, Dave Barnes, Ben West)
7. “Alright” (Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott, Busbee, Justin Ebach)
8. “Let It Be Love” (Hillary Scott, Jordan Reynolds, Amy Wadge)
9. “On A Night Like This” (Dave Barnes)
10. “Boots” (Charles Kelley, Ross Copperman)
11. “The Thing That Wrecks You” feat. Little Big Town(Daniel Tashian, Tenille Townes, Kate York)
12. “Mansion” (Chris DeStefano, Hillary Lindsey, Josh Miller)
13. “Ocean” (Tofer Brown, Sarah Buxton, Abe Stoklasa)