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Fourth album has Lady Antebellum feeling "Golden"

@graffonmusic, Facebook.com/Gary Graff on Music

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After four consecutive No. 1 albums, it's fair to say that Lady Antebellum has a "Golden" -- and platinum -- touch.

But Charles Kelley says the country trio did not take that track record for granted when it rolled out its new album, "Golden," in early May.

"Going into the fourth record, the biggest thing was, 'How are we going to keep everyone interested in what we're doing?' " says Kelley, 31, a Georgia native -- and brother of country singer Josh Kelley -- who co-founded Lady Antebellum during 2006 in Nashville with childhood friend Dave Haywood and Hillary Scott.

"We can't keep regurgitating the same stuff," Kelley continues. "I think we felt like we definitely had to mix it up a little bit -- without going too far."

Lady Antebellum's success certainly makes that a delicate balance to strike. In addition to the four chart-topping studio albums -- and a holiday set, "On This Winter's Night," that hit No. 1 on the Billboard Holiday Albums chart -- the group has notched 10 Top 10 country hits, six of which hit No. 1. Seven Grammy Awards, three American Music Awards and more than two dozen assorted country honors glisten in the group's trophy case.

But Kelley says there was a slight sense of dissatisfaction with 2011's "Own The Night." "I think it was chasing our second record (2010's 'Need You Now') a little too much," Kelley explains. "We kind of went back to the same well -- the back-and-forth duets, the drama, the strings. It was good, but it wasn't different enough.

"So for ('Golden') we said, 'We've got to do something different to make a change -- and make it interesting for us as well."

The result is a leaner and less polished 12-song set that followed some very specific goals the trio and co-producer Paul Worley established while Lady A was still on the road supporting "Own The Night." Most specifically, Kelley says, "we tried to make ('Golden') a little more breezy and uptempo, more driving music. Even the ballads kind of chug along. And we had really heavy strings on the last two records; this time we didn't do any string sections. We just stuck to the five or six instruments we (recorded) live and not much else, maybe a few overdubs.

"I think that almost added more of a kind of 70s rock vibe for the record, definitely something different than we'd done in the past."

The group also used more material than usual from outside writers on "Golden" -- four of 12 songs -- which Kelley feels worked to the album's benefit.

"At the end of the day I think it comes down to the really simple thing of just trying to pick the best songs," he explains. "That in and of itself helped stretch us a lot and find things the three of us would never write on our own." That includes the dark-hewed "It Ain't Pretty," as well as the raw rock feel of Will Hoge's "Better Off Now (That You're Gone)."

And, Kelley adds, the sexy first single "Downtown" "completely took Hillary out of her comfort zone." Fans, however, certainly found it comfortable; the song was another No. 1 hit for the group.

Lady A fans will largely have to be satisfied with the music for the time being. The group has a few more shows scheduled but will be going on a break later this month for Scott to have her first child. Kelley predicts the band will find a way "to keep ourselves out and about enough to stay in front and not let people forget about us too much," but he's confident Lady A -- which is planning a return to extensive touring in the fall -- won't lose too much momentum during its absence.

"It won't be that long, really," Kelley says. "As a band it's good to step off for a little bit so people don't get too sick of you, anyway. You've got to make time for life -- that's the only way you're not going to drive yourself crazy. Part of the next chapter in Lady Antebellum is having kids, but I think we'll find a way to make everything work out.

"We're excited about it, and honestly, so far, (Scott's) been doing awesome. She's getting through shows great. And it'll be fun to have a little road baby out there with us."

Lady Antebellum and Stewart Francke perform at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 13, at Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, 14900 Metropolitan Parkway, Sterling Heights. Tickets are sold out. Call 586-268-9700 or visit www.freedomhill.net.

Web Site: www.freedomhill.net

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