After nine #1 singles and four #1 albums with Lady Antebellum, Charles Kelley decided it was time to embark on a solo career whilst the band takes a break. We now have ‘The Driver’, a nine-track album drawing inspiration from a range of genres, experimenting with R&B, soul, rock and even country-funk sounds.
Certainly a significant change from Kelley’s familiar ground, but it doesn’t stray too far from the Lady Antebellum path to the extent where fans will struggle to engage. The quality of the song writing remains incredibly strong, and it is certainly Kelley’s most personal project to date.
‘The Driver’ kicks off with an up-tempo, rock influenced track called ‘Your Love’. Reminiscent of ‘Better Off Now That You’re Gone’ and ‘Love This Pain’, this one will resonate with Lady Antebellum fans and is perhaps the closest to home, if you will. A very infectious chorus and an immediate favourite.
This is followed by the gorgeous title track, the first single release from the album, featuring Dierks Bentley and Eric Paslay. Easily one of the top ten singles of the past year, ‘The Driver’ is a heart-felt dedication to the people who have played a part in Kelley’s career. “All the drivers and dreamers, believers and singers, oh won’t you sing with me now”. The foundation of the song is the hook in the chorus, which would sound beautiful with an audience singing along and is tailor-made for his live show. ‘The Driver’ is also nominated for a Grammy…. well deserved.
There are also two collaborations, the first of which is a cover of Tom Petty’s ‘Southern Accents’ featuring Stevie Nicks. This is one that simply cannot be ignored; the production behind it is stunning and the way that the instrumentation builds gradually really draws you in. Not to mention the unmistakable raspy vocals of Nicks that take the track up just another notch.
The other is the duet with country superstar Miranda Lambert on ‘I Wish You Were Here’, another stunning track, depicting Kelley’s life on the road and the struggle without his wife beside him. Kelley and Lambert’s vocals combine seamlessly; a dream partnership for fans of the modern country era. Very simplistic and rather subtle instrumentation, but incredibly effective. It’s one of those sit-up-and-listen moments – beautiful.
The personal touch is influential from start to finish, exemplified best with the final track ‘Leaving Nashville’, a touching tale of the struggles as an aspiring musician in Nashville and the reluctance to give up hope on a dream. “One day you’re the King, the next you’re not…..but I ain’t never leaving Nashville”. Just Kelley and a piano with a subtle violin backing, what more do you need? This one really gives him an opportunity to show off his vocal talents and the production is rather haunting. Charles at his best!
There really isn’t a bad thing to say about the album. If we really had to be picky, let’s just say nine tracks isn’t enough! It might not be an instantly loveable collection; not quite as infectious as your typical Lady Antebellum record. But give it time, and dig into the lyrics. You have to appreciate the quality of the song-writing. The man can do no wrong!