Lady Antebellum, "Golden" (EMI Nashville)
After pulling out the stops with the heavily orchestrated grandeur of 2011's platinum-selling album "Own the Night," Lady Antebellum heads in the opposite direction with the stripped-down sound of "Golden."
The country vocal trio hinted at its new direction with the sparse, soul-strutting groove of "Downtown," one of the spring's most engaging country hits. As usual, Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood deal with the complexities of modern relationships -- in this case, a woman asking why her man doesn't take her out for a fun night on the town, like he once did.
The bare-bones arrangements also work well on the emotionally moving "It Ain't Pretty," about a woman living out her heartbreak in public, and on the roots-rocking "Better Off Now (That You're Gone)," which is reminiscent of classic Tom Petty.
The album occasionally recalls past successes: "Long Teenage Goodbye" has the sunny innocence of the 2010 hit "American Honey," once again showing off Scott's shimmering alto. The dramatic crescendos of "All for Love" prove that a big, grand sound, deployed at the right time, fits the group's dynamic duets.
A couple of weak songs dampen the overall impact, but all in all, Lady A continues to experiment and grow while sounding like no one else in contemporary country music.