Big Machine Label Group
Release Date: October 22nd 2021
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Talk Of This Town
- What A Song Can Do
- Like A Lady
- Things He Handed Down
- Chance Of Rain
- Worship What I Hate
- Where Would I Be
- Friends Don’t Let Friends (feat. Carly Pearce, Thomas Rhett & Darius Rucker)
- In Waves
- You Keep Thinking That
- Be That For You
- Workin’ On This Love
- Swore I Was Leaving
Lady A have been in and around the music business for quite some time. Ever since their self-titled debut way back in 2008, they’ve been steadily releasing albums every few years- and carving out hits like ‘Need You Now’, ‘I Run to You’, ‘Hello World’, ‘American Honey’, ‘Heart Break’, ‘Just a Kiss’, ‘Compass’, ‘Bartender’, ‘What if I Never Get Over You’, ‘Ocean’ and ‘What I’m Leaving For’, to name a few. They’ve been imprinting their mark and impacting the world for the past decade and a half…but it was in 2020 where the band started to make waves. Ever since the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, and reacting to the widespread commercial response to the protests that resulted from George Floyd’s death, Lady A decided that it would drop the Antebellum from it’s name and just be called Lady A…except if we all were to have followed the coverage of Lady A’s journey from being Lady Antebellum to now being Lady A, then we’d know of the name controversy, and while I won’t bore people with travelogue details that can be read on Wikipedia, what I will say about the controversy is this- that while research should’ve been done to see if there was another Lady A out there before taking the Lady A moniker, that shouldn’t deny the fact that Hillary, Charles and Dave are some of the most talented country acts in quite some time, maybe even rivalling Rascal Flatts when they were around.
While I’m pretty sure that the lawsuit is still ongoing, what the band has continued to accomplish, even with the name change, is the continual creation of reflective and introspective melodies, as this new album by Hillary, Charles and Dave has quickly become one of my favourite country albums releases of 2021 thus far. While their ongoing dispute with blues singer Anita White over the use of the moniker Lady A, has seemingly tainted a lot of what Lady A (the band) has done throughout the last 10 years or so; what people forget to remember, is that this trio’s heart is still in the right place. Even if they stumbled and fumbled along the way. We don’t know what the outcome of Lady A’s name would be. Maybe it’ll all go well for them, and an amicable solution between Lady A (the band) and Anita White, can occur. Maybe a solution won’t be found. Whatever the case, what I do know is that this most recent album What a Song Can Do would stand tall amongst other albums released in 2021 thus far. Cassadee Pope’s Thrive, Lauren Alaina’s Sitting Pretty On Top Of The World, Tenille Arts’s Girl to Girl, Runaway June’s Back Story, needtobreathe’s Into the Mystery, Taylor Swift’s Fearless (Taylor’s Version) and RED (Taylor’s Version), Carly Pearce’s 29: Written in Stone and Thomas Rhett’s Country Again: Side A have all impressed over the last 11 months; and this album by arguably one of the 2010s most loved (and maybe even the most hated) country acts of recent music memory, is no different.
Lady A released What a Song Can Do (Chapter One) back in June 2021, and we as a site reviewed it here. What I won’t do is rehash what was said in the review, but what I will do is this- highlight a few of the first seven tracks that stood out for me, considering that my brother actually reviewed the first seven songs in his What a Song Can Do (Chapter One) review. Nevertheless, I was listening to Lady A’s first half of What a Song Can Do over the last few months; and let me just say this- that just from hearing the first 7 tracks alone, this album is on equal footing, maybe even exceeding the bar, set by 2019’s Ocean. Emotive, heartfelt, challenging, and compelling; Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott have all delivered music that speaks to the soul; and reminds us of all of important messages and themes that are crucial to understand in this world today. ‘What a Song can Do’, the title track, speaks about how the power of a song is so great, to the point where it can ‘…make you dance and make you cry, make you wanna give it one more try, start a band, and kiss that girl and break some rules, it’ll make you give your heart and get it back, change your mind just like that, when it’s like every single line was written just for you, ain’t it crazy what a song can do?…’ More often than not, we underestimate what music and songs can do in terms of it affecting someone’s life and trajectory and where they want to go- because in music, we have the license to speak about things that maybe sermons, speeches and lectures cannot allow. Music is the avenue to discuss values and ethics, opinions, and schools of thought. It is where we bare our souls, and it is one of the only avenues that people can connect to on a soul-to-soul level, without much bias at all. Music (and by extension, songs) from all genres and time periods are created so that the listener can be impacted, so that they can maybe see themselves somewhere in the song, and can maybe relate on a personal level to a 3 and a half minute melody that could’ve been written in a different time period, and for a different demographic…and someone it was the song that ‘spoke’ to you…crazy, and cool, right? ‘What a Song Can Do’ is a great way for us to understand the continual way that I firmly believe God uses music, maybe in ways we don’t understand, and yet He uses it, nonetheless. Well done Lady A for this melody, and a great standout amongst the first 7 songs on What a Song Can Do.
‘Things He Handed Down’ starts off with a light electric guitar riff as Charles relays to us all, of all the things that his father taught him when he was young, reminding us, all of the value of learning from our parents and grandparents, understanding that what they have to offer us skills-wise and wisdom-wise, are things that no textbook can teach us. Life skills and interacting with someone who is older than us, is a gift in and of itself, and a reminder that life itself is fragile, and that we may never get another moment again for us to learn from people who have gone before us. Every person leaves a legacy for their kids, and this song ‘Things He Handed Down’ encourages us all to seek legacies that are much more enriching spiritually, rather than just things and material possessions that people often receive from generations before. ‘Fire’ highlights the importance of walking through fire so that our perspective on life can become enriched and our lives can be better for it, as we’re reminded that calamity and chaos can come not because Jesus caused it to happen, but rather, life’s trials happen so that we can lean more on Christ, and that He can maybe teach us things about ourselves (and Him) that we may not have learnt or even thought of, had this ‘fire’ or trial not happen in the first place. It is when we’re walking through fire (not literally) in our life, that that really know what we’re going to be made of- because when we’re under a difficult season in our lives, that’s when true character comes through and shines.
‘Chance of Rain’ is another Charles Kelley-led track, as Lady A challenge us all to take risks and move outside of our comfort zone, and hopefully taking leaps into the unknown, but also reminding us all that more often than not, we’re the ones that are holding back from what the Lord has in store for us, because we’re too afraid of whatever this outcome would be, or we’d freak out because there’d be a small minute chance of ____, but because there is such a chance of _____ in the first place, we want to stay put where we are, because us not moving, though it may mean us never exploring the unknown, will also mean that we won’t be hurt, if things go pear-shaped. A song that speaks to us about why we are hesitant in what we do (and that maybe we need to start making bold, calculated risks instead of being more cautious than what we need to be), ‘Chance of Rain’ allows us to look at our own lives, and see if our decisions are actually based on whether there’s a chance of ____, or if they are actually based upon some compound evidence against this thing. The trio then round out the 7 song EP with the powerful ‘Worship What I Hate’; one of the most vulnerable songs that this trio has ever recorded. A song that reminds us all that there are times in our lives where we elevate and ‘worship’ things about ourselves and others that don’t deserve our time and attention, we realise through this osng that we all obsess and ‘worship’ something, saying that ‘this thing deserves top spot, deserves my praise, adoration and attention’; when in fact the things that we are champion, unknowingly, is something that even the Lord says we shouldn’t highlight and speak fondly about. We ought to focus on who we believe God is shaping us to become, rather than the things in our lives that seemingly try to hold us back from our God-given potential. As Hilary herself reminds us, ‘…for me, this song is redemptive though in the fact that you’ve noticed and now you can change. That’s the biggest piece that I want people to hear when they hear the song. Ultimately, when you become cognizant of it, you can change it and I think that that’s my hope is that anyone who hears it who feels a little bit like I do, a little bit icky, like, ‘Oh man, that’s really what I’m struggling with. But what can I do to change it,’ and to focus more on who we can become instead of letting all of our energy go to the ways that we’ve not matched up or the things that don’t serve us…’
The remainder 7 tracks released on the day of the full-length What a Song Can Do– October 22nd 2021, and while it’s only natural to compare this group of 7 songs to the first 7 tracks released in June, what I’ve noticed is this- that though there’s this understanding that there are the ‘strong’ songs near the front of the track-listing and the ‘weaker’ songs are near the back, that isn’t the case with this album- these next 7 songs are equally as powerful as the first 7. ‘Where Would I Be’ challenges us to ponder about the life we’ve lived thus far, and where we would be, if certain events didn’t happen in the past to bring us to where we are now- and while the song speaks about pondering about where we’d be relationship-wise and romantically, the song can still apply to other things as well- where would we be friend-wise, career-wise, if things didn’t happen that did, and if things did happen, that really didn’t? ‘Friends Don’t Let Friends’ is the sole collaboration on Lady A’s album, and with guest vocalists like country/rock legend Darius Rucker, up-and-coming female artist Carly Pearce and fan-favourite country all-round cool dude Thomas Rhett…well, what’s not to love about the song? The topic and message of the track is simple- friends don’t let friends drink alone, and that if you’re in a time of need, then and only then, you’ll know who your true friends are in that moment. A song that is as jolly as it is introspective, Lady A’s collaboration is one of the most upbeat songs on the album, and indeed a bright spark and a change compared to a lot of ballad-style material this trio has done in both of their albums Ocean and What a Song Can Do– so it’s nice to hear something unique and different, and besides, who’d’ve thought Lady A would collab with Thomas Rhett, Carly Pearce and Darius Rucker on one song together? I didn’t!
‘In Waves’ follows along next, and Lady A allows people who have had breakups to feel seen and heard on this track- as ‘In Waves’ reminds us all, that anyone who has experienced one of the hardest things you could experience in your adult life, has experienced times directly after a breakup, where you miss them…badly. And it needn’t be a romantic relationship that this song is talking about- yes, ‘In Waves’ in particular speaks about someone who is missing someone else so badly post-breakup, but ‘In Waves’ also reminds us that any other relationship breakdown- let’s say, a friendship; can also occur, and that you can also miss them, in waves of course. You can lament the friendship with someone that you once had; or regret how a romantic relationship went. Regardless however we feel, when relationships die, ‘In Waves’ can maybe even relate to more people than we think. ‘You Keep Thinking That’ carries on directly from ‘In Waves’; and describes a relationship post-breakup…farther along in someone’s relationship timeline than the persona in ‘In Waves’. Gone is the missing, and now is the ‘getting over’. When you’re in a good place; and have ‘moved on’. ‘You Keep Thinking That’ speaks about how someone has moved on in said relationship, while the other hasn’t, and they try to rationalise why they are still feeling upset about the breakup in the first place. ‘You Keep Thinking That’ resigns to the fact that only you can control how you feel post-breakup, and if someone else feels as though they still have a shot and a second chance, well, then ‘you keep thinking that’, because where you are right now is full of hope, anticipation, life, enthusiasm, and promise, compared to maybe even a toxic relationship before. ‘Be That For You’ completes the song trifecta of ‘In Waves’, ‘You Keep Thinking That’ and ‘Be That For You’, and we can see this song in an emotional and powerful light- we are singing that to someone who may have gone through the most horrendous breakup, or if they’re feeling down because of the loss of a friendship. In a nutshell, ‘Be That For You’ speaks of lyrics that can universally apply to a variety of relationships- be it romantic, familial or platonic, and the song itself is a gracious ode to someone’s devotion to another, irrespective of what they are going through. Definitely one of my highlights on the album, for sure.
Dave Haywood (guitarist for the band) makes his singing debut on the track ‘Workin’ On This Love’, an ode of respect to his wife and a love-letter in song to his person who he wants to publically address his appreciation and love for; while the album ends with ‘Swore I Was Leaving’, a song that is as reflective as it is heartfelt, about how the persona feels as though they should leave the situation at hand because of what could be perceived if they stayed- a reminder that sometimes, to stay in a relationship goes against every logical thing people tell us to do, and yet, sometimes the things that don’t make sense in the moment are the things we should journey towards, because it is in the ‘crazy’ that a different perspective is born. Well done Lady A for the last track, and a great way to end arguably one of their most well-rounded albums I’ve heard, since the albums 747 and Golden.
Unfortunately, Lady A and the controversy surrounding their name change won’t necessarily ‘go away’ right away, and maybe that’s the point. Sometimes the band can show you what they’re made of when the chips are down, and in Lady A’s case, the chips are definitely down. Their reputation, each way you look at it, needs some time and healing to get back to what it once was, and maybe the band should’ve done more research before they changed their name (and we all know what the A in Lady A actually stands for!). Whatever the case, they are back with a standout album, and one of 2021’s best, alongside Lauren Alaina’s Sitting Pretty On Top of the World, Cassadee Pope’s Thrive and Tenille Arts’ Girl To Girl. An album that for me, speaks to the versatility of the trio and their ability to make upbeat and reflective country, something that isn’t as easily done, period. Hillary, Dave and Charles continue to deliver song-wise, and this album is no different- songs like ‘Worship What I Hate’, ‘Things He Handed Down’ and ‘Be There For You’ are great standouts, while other tracks like ‘Friends Don’t Let Friends’ and ‘Workin’ On this Love’ could be potential radio singles in the future. An album that’ll continue to be on repeat on Spotify for quite some time, this is a must, if you’ve enjoyed Lady A’s previous material before, or if you enjoy country with a bit of an inspirational edge. Well done Hillary, Dave and Charles, can’t wait to see how God uses this album in the upcoming months ahead.
3 songs to listen to: Things He Handed Down, Worship What I Hate, Be That For You
RIYL: Carrie Underwood, Mallary Hope, Rascal Flatts, Matthew West, Thomas Rhett