Further to Dan’s excellent review of Heart Break, the final part of this Nashville Treasures piece (read Part One here and Part Two here) sees Jonny Brick offer some context to the latest chapter of the story of Lady Antebellum…
If you shared your workspace with the beautiful Hillary Scott, you’d probably want a family with her. Chris, Lady A’s longterm drummer, is Hillary’s husband, and they take their daughter on the road with them.
In autumn 2015 the couple lost a baby (it would have been her second child) when Hillary miscarried her pregnancy. She opened up on various media outlets while promoting her solo album Love Remains in 2016, which she released while the band were on a break. Charles Kelley put out a nine-song set, The Driver.
‘I’ve never felt more connected on a heart level with people who know me through my music,’ Hillary told The Bobby Bones Show. Hillary sings Thy Will, a gospel hit written around the time of her miscarriage, out on the road alongside the tracks from Heart Break.
Compared to Brett Young and Kelsea Ballerini, who have five number ones between them, Lady A are experts in the country game. You can catch those three on an extensive tour in 2017. It is strange that the band have been around for a decade and are thus now a heritage act; indeed, there is a famous photo of a teenage Kelsea meeting the band at CMA Fest around the time of Need You Now. Dreams can come true…
Here are the hits they may be playing on their You Look Good tour, which comes to Europe in October: Downtown, Our Kind of Love, Love Don’t Live Here, Compass, We Owned the Night, American Honey, I Run To You, Just a Kiss, Lookin for a Good Time, Dancin Away with my Heart, Hello World and Bartender. And one other one, can’t remember the name, but it starts with the line about memories scattered around the floor…
New songs performed in 2017 include Heart Break, This City and Good Time to be Alive, which comes very early in the set and will surely close the Lady A sets of the future. You Look Good is already a hit and I am sure the band don’t mind only having performance rights on a track they did not write (among the writers were busbee and Ryan Hurd, himself a musician). It was the correct choice of single for the Heart Break album, and was a solid fixture on the radio in the weeks leading up to June 9, the date of the album’s release.
Their CMT Awards performance days before with Earth Wind and Fire was, to Charles, a brilliant moment. It was, to the guys, a start of Chapter Two of the band’s story. ‘I’ve been begging them for years!! I played Sir Duke over and over,’ said Hillary in conversation on CBS This Morning, a fan of the brass, her ‘guilty pleasure’.
On June 14, as the album was rushing towards the top of the charts, the band put out a promo video for the entire album. With video footage synched up with clips of each track on the album, the six-minute clip on their Youtube channel was part of a huge drive for visual content to promote the album. The video, which is called Heart Break Hotel, is like a set of short stories.
The band released a series of short films to their channel, a sort of commentary, in which they are shown relaxing in a pool in LA recapturing the feel of their first album.
Heart Break, the opening and title track, came from Dave’s idea to have a song about a ‘heart-break summer’, a summer without love. Then the idea ran and ran, and pointed to the album’s direction. Charles told the Associated Press that it was his favourite song since Need You Now.
Hurt, the band reveal in another video, is ‘emotional to sing’ according to Hillary, who puts a lot of soul into her vocal. ‘The minute I heard the strings and the dobro is when it started breaking my heart,’ admits Charles. Hillary finds the song ‘really special’, and for Dave it’s his ‘dark horse’. Like most top Lady A tunes, it’s a ballad.
This City, according to the band in another video, was ‘a super fun to record’ said Dave. Hillary is captured on camera saying that it sounds like a good opener to the show. ‘It will make for a really great live moment,’ she adds, especially with the lyric: ‘This city looks good on you!’ Like most other top Lady A tunes, it’s a windows-and-the-top-down anthem.
Teenage Heart, written in LA, has ‘a bit of a Coldplay feel’ to Charles and ‘the lights, the energy’ of a Coldplay live show. Think About You also has an irresistible poppy feel, ‘an earworm of a song’ according to Charles, who is captured in the studio shouting ‘hello country radio!!’ on one of the Youtube videos. The Stars is about their kids, while Home and Army are about the guys’ wives.
Good Time to be Alive, the most urgent on the album aside from You Look Good, will as mentioned become a live favourite. The Youtube video accompanying that song reveals that this song is one of the nine songs which was written in the first four days in Florida. We see a clip of Charles finding the words to accompany the chant, which has a great gospel feel; no track of the band’s has really reached to gospel, so this is a great step forward in their canon.
Likewise Famous, the last track on the album. Famous was inspired by Amy, the documentary about Amy Winehouse which Charles loved. ‘We wanted to capture the moment when fame gets so large and how you handle it,’ said Dave. ‘It’s gotta be so frightening and sad and lonely,’ Charles added.
Charles himself had told The Boot back in 2010, after the massive success of Need You Now that fame was double-edged: you get to ‘wake up and do what you love…We’ve been given the golden ticket here’, but ‘your time is not so much your time anymore…Your mind never really gets to check out.’
In June 2017, it was revealed that Charles and his wife Cassie, who founded the website Womanista and announced her pregnancy on the site itself in 2015, had sold the family home, a mansion with four en suite bedrooms (plus pool house, according to Variety magazine) for almost $3m. There are pros to success…
Somebody Else’s Heart, the last song written before the band went into the studio, came from a lyric idea from Shane McAnally. ‘You wish that you didn’t have to feel the heartbreak,’ Hillary adds of the lyric. Dave admires that it brings ‘a fresher approach’ to familiar themes.
The band appreciate their UK fanbase, as Dave told Acoustic Magazine in 2015. ‘They invest in the entire record, not just the singles. They even go back to the first album of ours that wasn’t even out in the UK.’ (The album has since been issued to UK fans.) BBC Radio 2 had playlisted Lie With Me, the lead single from 747, and the band were headliners at Country2Country in 2015 at the venue Lady Antebellum are due to play on October 10 2017. Dave said that the O2 Arena was ‘the top of the tree for global touring’, even though it is smaller than the sports stadia they revisit in 2017.
I don’t want to spoil the covers the band play in the set, but there may well be 90s country and one of the finest pop songs of the millennium so far. On previous tours they have tackled Wake Me Up, by Avicii; the big song from the movie Pitch Perfect, Cups; Islands in the Stream; American Woman by the Guess Who; Thinking Out Loud, the best non-country country song this decade (which Thomas Rhett remade and called Die a Happy Man); Let’s Get It On; Walk This Way, utilising the guitar talents of Hunter Hayes on their Wheels Up tour; Landslide, by Fleetwood Mac; and Shania Twain’s song Any Man of Mine.
‘We want to be here for twenty, thirty years,’ Dave told CBS This Morning in 2017, sentiments which echoed Charles’ words in 2015 to Acoustic Magazine. ‘We’re playing arenas and love it, so if we can stay here for a long time, that’d how we’d define success.
‘It’s about wanting to be proud of what we’re doing and to still be relevant.’
Heart Break is out now on Capitol Records. Read other pieces in this series elsewhere at Your Life in a Song. The next Nashville Treasure will be the Man in Black, Johnny Cash.