Nashville Skyline: Lady Antebellum Carry Country Music These Days

One year ago, Taylor Swift was the best-selling recording artist in the world. Now, who is? Maybe Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga?

It does not come as any great surprise that it’s Lady Antebellum. Their Need You Now is the best-selling album in all music genres in the world for the first half of this year. In just the first six months of this year, the trio’s album Need You Now has sold almost 2.4 million physical copies, according to Nielsen Soundscan. It has impressively outpaced Bieber’s nearly 1.4 million sales of his CD My World 2.0.

Need You Now was released Jan. 26. In the first three months of this year, it sold 1.6 million copies. In the past three months, it accounted for another 708,000 copies sold — even as overall CD sales in all music genres continue to drop. Additionally, digital downloads of the single “Need You Now” have reached 2.1 million copies.

Swift’s Fearless album sold a total of 3.2 million albums in all of 2009, so it’s quite likely that Need You Now, with a six months’ sales period still ahead, will outstrip Fearless’ numbers. Lady A came along just in time to prop up country music’s still-declining sales. Country sales for the second quarter of 2010 are down by 3 million copies from this time a year ago — down to 8.4 million total copies. The big reason? No new releases from the major artists.

Lady A’s songs resonate especially well in the country music market, but they also impact with the pop and AC music audiences, with their across-the-board appeal. So far, Lady A have done everything right. They’ve got the looks, the voices, the songwriting chops, good live show, all done with an unfailing sunny optimism. Everything that country music needs right now.

If the pop music market is so broad and national and international, why have Taylor and Lady A — both young newcomers — been able to take over and dominate that arena?

It’s simple: it’s music that people like to hear. Well-crafted, heartfelt peer-group music will always draw an audience.

And, hey, it may well sound familiar and reassuring. The opening to Lady A’s song “Need You Now” evokes the Fleetwood Mac era. Nothing wrong with that.

Very much like any Eagles or Fleetwood Mac album that came long before or even the Mamas and the Papas’ records before them, Lady A’s music has a lyrical little bit of a special something for everyone. Most of all, Lady A have melodic songs. Nothing trumps melody with most music fans. If the words mean something to the listeners’ lives, if they can remember the words, if they can sing it — well, then, it’s a personal hit to them.

And with the album’s second single, “American Honey,” Lady A’s Hillary Scott was — deservedly — established as the lead singer. She’s now the group’s icon voice. There’s a reason why Fleetwood Mac flourished with Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks as star lead singers.

I think it’s pivotal to Lady A’s success that they were co-writers on eight of the album’s 11 tracks. And it’s revealing that the three of them wrote their very large hit single, “Need You Now” (with songwriter Josh Kear).

It also comes as no large surprise that producer Paul Worley had a large hand in this project, producing the album, along with the three Lady A’s. As a co-producer, he was greatly responsible for catapulting the Dixie Chicks from a regional Texas act into a national and international phenomenon and getting the Chicks their Grammy awards for the albums Wide Open Spaces and Fly. He started out in Nashville as a session rhythm guitarist, working on recording sessions ranging from Mickey Gilley to Janie Fricke, and has produced artists ranging from Pam Tillis to Martina McBride to Collin Raye. A lot of studio time logged there.

The Dixie Chicks exemplified well-written songs and catchy melodies. The same goes for Lady A. Good songs and melody and harmony go a long way with music fans. Simplicity works. Honest, direct music works. Why is it so few people ever try that route? 

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