Somewhere along the line, Lady Antebellum changed from just another country group (albeit one with a regrettable choice of name) into the hottest group in music, period. A hit single and a couple of Grammys has a way of doing that for you. At the beginning of 2010, the single and album Need You Now elevated the co-ed trio (consisting of Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood) to cross-genre superstardom (it even had a dance remix). With their third album, Own The Night, Lady A faces career stakes that have been raised considerably.

Here’s the thing: if you liked either of Lady A’s first two albums, you’re not gonna find much to protest again here. The trio has wisely opted not to reinvent the wheel. There’s no experimentation, just a solid hour of hooky, mostly downtempo pop-country. While they didn’t go the obvious route and do a bald-faced rewrite of “Need You Now”, many of the songs on Own The Night are at least reasonably reminiscent of their big hit single. I don’t know that there’ll be many new fans convinced to jump onboard the Lady A train, but Own The Night should do a pretty good job of retaining the folks that have opted to take the ride so far.

Over the years, I’ve come to realize that I dig elements of country music, but not the stuff that’s overbearingly country. While there’s the occasional pedal steel and fiddle to be found on Own The Night, those elements are used sparingly and often buried in the mix. Without those elements (or a significant amount of vocal twang) present in large amounts, what you’re left with is an album that’s only about half a step from your prototypical adult contemporary pop. This could be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you feel about that particular subgenre. On the good side, Own the Night‘s songs are really well-written and hooky as all hell. On the bad side, the album does get bland in spots-some of the songs are fairly indistinguishable from one another.

I can definitely say that none of these songs will raise your blood pressure too much. “We Owned The Night”, the (sort of) title track, is about as raucous as it gets. Along with the summery “Singing Me Home” and the peppy “Friday Nights”, these midtempo songs are about as party-starting as Lady A gets, which is to say not very much. The ballads are a reasonably mixed bag. First single “Just a Kiss” tries to capture some of that “Need You Now” flavor and doesn’t totally succeed, while “Heart Of The World” overdoes it ever-so slightly on the sappiness. “When You Were Mine” is sadly not a cover of the Prince classic, but still ranks as a solid slow jam, at least until the end, when it goes all “My Heart Will Go On” on us.

Pop-country is certainly no longer a “thing”, as much as traditionalists might tell you otherwise. There’s been a distinct line between adult contemporary and C&W ever since Olivia Newton-John started picking up country music awards back in the Seventies. It’s a line that encompasses Kenny Rogers in the Eighties, acts like Restless Heart in the Nineties, and folks like Taylor Swift today. There’s certainly nothing wrong with delivering solidly written love songs, folks have been doing it for centuries. Own The Night doesn’t aspire to high art, it simply delivers on it’s promise of delivering hooks you’ll remember for ages. While it would’ve certainly helped the band artistically to change things up a little bit, I guess you can’t blame them for sticking with the tried and true when the tried and true has worked so well for them.

Grade: B

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