I’ll admit that seven years ago, I was a Lady Antebellum fan. Their debut album, co-produced by the illustrious Victoria Shaw, showcased a band with tremendous promise. While not earth shattering, “Love Don’t Live Here” had grit that proved they were a force to be reckoned with. “I Run To You” made good on their potential and deservedly won the CMA Single of the Year award. “Need You Now” and “American Honey” were also good, but the album that surrounded them marked the beginning of the end. After just five singles, Lady Antebellum devolved into a second-rate pop act.
When they announced their upcoming hiatus, I was thrilled. Would they use this time to reevaluate what had happened to their sound? Charge their depleted artistic batteries? Well, we got an answer this week when Charles Kelley announced a solo single and upcoming EP. As Lady Antebellum’s artistic prowess went south, Kelley’s rich baritone went along with it. He used to be the guy who let loose, a nice counterbalance to Hillary Scott’s softer soprano.
Now we have “The Driver” to contend with. Kelley’s first solo single is a piano drenched soft rock ballad that wouldn’t be out of place in Lady Antebellum’s repertoire. The track is listenable and while the lyric doesn’t have anything to say at all, it contains zero traces of bro, metro, or any other of the current trends turning mainstream country into the unrecognizable laughing stock it is today.
Is this a step in the right direction? No, it’s not. What is this song even about? You have three acts, sung by Kelley, Eric Paslay, and Dierks Bentley respectively. Kelley portrays the driver, the one in charge of bringing the circus to town. Paslay is the dreamer sitting in the front row, enjoying the show. Bentley meanwhile is the singer, giving the audience all he has during his performance. While the characters are well thought out, they don’t go anywhere. There’s no reason to care about any of them, so we don’t. Why is this song even called “The Driver” (opposed to “The Dreamer” or “The Singer”)? Is he the glue that holds everyone together?
Like a lot of modern country songs that hint at substance, “The Driver” has good bones and a clever premise. It fails because it doesn’t take the story anywhere. All we have are descriptions of three characters – no depth or soul to make them more than constructs on a casting director’s call sheet. What’s missing is the actor brave enough to take what’s on the page and turn it into a multi-dimensional character worth caring about. Why is it so novel to actually develop a story into something worthwhile?
The only credit I can give to Kelley and Co is that they’ve presented us with a tune that doesn’t out rightly offend in any major way (except the fact IT’S NOT COUNTRY. AT ALL). They’re committed vocally. I don’t hear any noticeable use of computers in place of instruments. They appear to actually be singing. None of these things should ever be a cause for celebration, but in the current climate, we have to take what we can get. I’ll reserve the ‘F’ and ‘D’ grades for the pure dreck. In comparison, “The Driver” isn’t horrible, it’s just lazy in every noticeable way.