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Lady Antebellum's On Fire -- And Fired Up

of the Oakland Press

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As his group accepted one of its three Academy of Country Music awards last Sunday, Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelley noted that “this moment is not lost in our eyes. We’re living our dream right now.”

That they are.

With its second album, “Need You Now,” the Nashville, Tenn., trio — which also includes Dave Haywood and Hillary Scott — achieved its stated goal to “take it up a notch,” as Kelley puts it.

Following the platinum and chart-topping success of Lady A’s self-titled 2008 debut, “Need You Now” debuted atop both the Billboard 200 and Country Albums chart in January and also became the first country release to spend multiple weeks (two) atop the 200 since the Dixie Chicks in 2006. The album went platinum within a month of its release — the first million-seller of 2010 — while the title track spent five straight weeks atop the Hot Country Songs survey and has been certified double-platinum itself.

Amidst all that, Lady A won a pair of Country Music Association Awards and a Grammy Award, all for “I Run to You” from the first album. At the ACM Awards the group took home Top Vocal Group honors, while “Need You Now” was named Song of the Year and Single of the Year — a showing that outshined an empty-handed Tim McGraw, for whom Lady A is currently opening.

“It’s pretty wild, man,” gushes Kelley, 28. “I don’t think we could’ve ever scripted it this way. We definitely feel like we were just lucky enough to come out at the right time and ...

“Y’know,” he adds with a laugh, “I really don’t know. It’s hard to really say why everything’s gone this way, but it’s definitely exciting. It’s a whirlwind for sure.”

The whirlwind began in 2005, when Kelley gave up his construction job in his native Winston-Salem, N.C., to move to Nashville and follow in the musical footsteps of his older brother, Josh Kelley. He invited Haywood, who had been a middle school classmate, to join him and try their luck as a songwriting team and maybe eventually as artists in their own right.

“We just loved writing music,” Kelley says. “We felt like if we could get our foot in the door, meet players and stuff, we could hopefully get a shot.”

Kelley had networked with Scott, the daughter of country singer Linda Davis, on MySpace, and she met her two future bandmates face to face after one of their club gigs in 2006. “She said, ‘I heard your music on MySpace. I love it.’ ” Kelley remembers. “I said, ‘That’s great. Let’s get together and write some songs.’

“And immediately the chemistry was there; we wrote (the No. 3 country hit) ‘Love Don’t Live Here,’ ‘All We’d Ever Need’ and ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ before we even started the group.”

Thanks to the patronage of fellow country artist Victoria Shaw, Lady A — the name was “the first thing that came out of our mouths,” Kelley says — had a deal in July of 2007. The group made its debut singing backup for Jim Brickman on his adult-contemporary hit “Never Alone” and also wrote a song for the MTV reality show “The Hills.” The trio was also able to write or co-write all but one song on the “Lady Antebellum” album — including the chart-topping “I Run To You” — which, of course, put some pressure on “Need You Now.”

But, Kelley says, the success also led to more respect from producer Paul Worley and others the trio worked with.

“I think even from day one Paul Worley appreciated who we were as artists and understood we had a handle on what we were looking for,” he notes. “But this time, just as artists, we felt a little more comfortable speaking up.”

Lady A even received co-production credits on the new album.

The title track on “Need You Now,” meanwhile, soundly answered the question about whether Lady Antebellum could repeat — and even surpass — its first album success. The song, a midtempo and atmospheric love ode on which Kelley and Scott trade verses, was crafted with (Josh) Kear during the first of two sessions for the album. “After hearing that song,” Kelley says, “it paved the way for how we approached the rest of the record, just sonically how it sounds ... that moodiness it creates. We definitely felt like the rest of the album had to live up to that.”

More pressure, then. However, Kelley notes, “It was nice to know we have at least one hit off the record, so at least there’s interest.”

Still, the trio was surprised that “Need You Now,” which is hardly a characteristic country song, was chosen as the lead single. “I guess I just always assumed the first song off a new record is something uptempo and fun,” he says. “It was such a shock when we had come in with the first batch of songs and everybody at the label and management teams was like, ‘This is it! ‘Need You Now!’ ”

“It felt like we were taking a bit of a chance with it, and to see how well it was received, it just came as a bit of a surprise ... It definitely caught us all off guard in a good way.”

“Need You Now” also became Lady A’s first pop chart hit, peaking at No. 10. But Kelley promises that the group isn’t forsaking its country roots.

“That specific song, I think, kind of crosses genres,” he says. “It’s been cool to see. It’s obviously been great for our career, but we’re not going anywhere.” The twangier “American Honey,” in fact, has kept the momentum strong, soaring quickly into the Top 10 of the country chart.

More singles — and more success — certainly seem inevitable from “Need You Now” as Lady A tours with McGraw and eyeballs a future as headliners. Kelley says he’s not one to predict, but he’s certainly happy, and maybe a little relieved, with Lady A’s ascent.

“Right now, we feel like we’ve got a lot of expectations on us,” he says. “But it’s exciting; we’re getting to live out our dream. It feels like a lot of people are backing us and basically putting their stamp of approval on us, so it’s just nice to know there’s a lot of people rallying around us.

“And we want to make them proud.”

Lady Antebellum performs with Tim McGraw and Love and Theft at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 24, at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $29.75-84.75. Call 248-377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.

Web Site: www.palacenet.com

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