Music News

Lady Antebellum Balances Country and Pop

Lady Antebellum's collision of country with pop and rock 'n' roll is one of the most exciting examples of the current musical climate. Sample the crowds swarming to see Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Emmylou Harris, and the Dixie Chicks and try to discern any narrow demographic, class, or category that binds them all together. It's like roping the wind, to steal a line from one of the biggest crossover successes of all, Garth Brooks.

There was ample evidence of that commonality during the recent CBS broadcast of the CMA awards — the participants strode the red carpet in Dior dresses, custom-fitted suits, and carefully coifed tresses, with nary a frilly skirt or beehive hairdo in view. Need more proof of country's crossover? The event was held not in Nashville but in Las Vegas.

Over the past three decades, just plain folks like Kenny Rogers, Dolly Parton, Patsy Cline, and Eddie Arnold shed their cowboy hats and rural affectations and garnered a following from the mainstream — even while maintaining a core country audience. Rockers have found favor with country audiences since the late '60s when Dylan recorded Nashville Skyline, the Band sowed the roots of heartland tradition, and the Byrds broke down the barriers to the Grand Ole Opry — all paving a path that the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Poco, and the Burrito Brothers soon followed.

In fact, it's been that way from the beginning. Hank Williams, arguably the single most-influential figure in all of American music, wrote countless standards that not only guided the direction of country but contributed to the pop idiom as well.

Consequently, it's not surprising to find a fresh-faced trio like Lady Antebellum beloved by the masses who identify with multiple genres. Accolades for the group come from traditional realms — three number one hits on the country charts, "Need You Now" being the most recent — and in awards such as Top New Duo or Group doled out by the Academy of Country Music, New Artist of the Year honors from the Country Music Association, and, just weeks ago, a win as Top Vocal Group at the aforementioned ACM extravaganza. However, the fact that the group is easy on the eyes and totes tunes of the basic broken-heart variety makes across-the-board success all but inevitable.

Likewise, aside from Lady Antebellum's industry connections — Hillary Scott is the daughter of country singer Linda Davis and Charles Kelley is the brother of pop favorite Josh Kelley — their humble origins have an everyman appeal. Kelley was working construction prior to moving to Nashville, and the group's third member, Dave Haywood, was his buddy back in middle school. Scott met Kelley on MySpace. In contrast to all the other ready-made superstars mass-produced via American Idol, Scott says she was booted from the show even before completing the first round.

Besides, how surprising is it that "Need You Now" made its way to number two on the Adult Contemporary charts and that the group's sophomore album of the same name reaped platinum and topped Billboard's Top 200? Isn't a song begging for a booty call a candidate for mass appeal?

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Lee Zimmerman