In some ways, Golden reaffirms the very beginnings of Lady Antebellum. The project focuses on deft songwriting and fresh uses of their talents, which was at the heart of what drew them together in the first place. Augusta-born Kelley met Nashvillian Scott at a Music City hot spot. Their creative partnership started with a songwriting appointment with Haywood, though they quickly realized their three voices combined in a way they'd never quite heard before.
"Golden," the last song they wrote for the project, has a sense of innocence and rediscovery not far removed from those initial creative efforts.
"It really took us back to when we first met each other, when I first met the boys and we were sitting around the piano at the house they used to live in," Scott says. "We didn't know each other at all, but there was still some magic - that blend of our voices and that blend of our songwriting craft together. It's exciting to say that at record four, we can still find that."
The magic remains because they have kept the focus on the music. They started as songwriters, and they've continued to prove themselves in that field. In addition to writing most of their own hits, Haywood and Kelley co-authored buddy Luke Bryan's breakthrough hit, "Do I"; and Scott was a co-writer of Sara Evans' No. 1 single "A Little Bit Stronger," featured in the movie Country Strong.
The passion for writing spilled over into the Own The Night Tour, and thus into Golden. The band set up a jam room at every venue, giving them some time to get into the right mental framework for the evening's show. But it also provided more cohesiveness with their backing musicians and kept their inventiveness alive. "All For Love," a dramatic title on Golden, was written by the entire band in the jam room in sessions at several different shows. The anthemic "Generation Away," the nostalgic "Long Teenage Goodbye" and the steely "Goodbye Town" similarly emerged from writing sessions on the road.
"We were just kind of in that mindset," Haywood says. "We had that perspective of being on a tour and having seen what translates in an arena. We have a better idea what kind of songs are so relatable where it shakes everybody like, 'Oh, my God, I've totally been there.'"
While the band was committed to its songwriting, Nashville's music community busted down the doors with its A-list material. Six of the 11 songs on Golden came from outside writers, including the R&B-tinged "Downtown," the Byrds-like "Better Off Now (That You're Gone)" and the fragile "It Ain't Pretty."
The outside material was key in helping Lady A find new dimensions to its sound and new depths to its performances.
"We could never sit in a room together and write a song like 'Downtown' or 'It Ain't Pretty,'" Scott concedes. "Those songs that we didn't write pull out of us different things that we couldn't find within ourselves in a writing room."
In the end, the mix of their road experiences and the challenging outside songs added a brightness and a freshness to the album that's reflected in the Golden title.
"We keep calling it our roll-down-the-windows record, and that was one of the reasons why the term 'Golden' was kind of cool," Kelley says. "You know, you have these little road trips and you're driving down the road and you get these little streaks of sunshine popping through the trees, especially at sunset as you're driving. This golden thing. The album just gives you that warm, easy feeling."
The road trip is key. The album emerged from the band's concert tour - an over-sized road trip, if there ever was one - and it embraces the moving target that is creativity. Lady Antebellum's familiar, established blend remains firmly intact, but there's a sense of renewal about it, too. Golden is a reinvented version of Lady A that's familiar but simultaneously unlike any of its predecessors. It's an achievement that comes from the band's journey, and from its willingness to risk.
"Golden depicts a kind of a special time for us in our career," Haywood says. "I personally feel so humbled that we can still be making records that people are excited to hear. We're in a really valuable, golden time."