Golden by Lady Antebellum

When Lady Antebellum was recording its fourth album, Golden, it’s easy to imagine someone saying, “Loosen up, will ya?”

The group itself has admitted it was ready for a musical attitude adjustment after the string-heavy drama of 2011’s Own the Night. And for the most part, Hillary Scott, Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood succeeded in rolling up their sleeves and rolling down the car windows on Golden

Still, it’s a tale of two albums. Despite the presence of utterly infectious single “Downtown” and the jangly “Better Off Now That You’re Gone,” the first half of Golden is a little too polished, as if the trio couldn’t escape the pull of Own the Night’s gravitas.

“Get to Me” lacks the oomph of an album opener, while “Goodbye Town” reaches a wonderful whoa-oh-oh crescendo but, at nearly five minutes, takes too long to get there.

Everything changes with the title track, however, a song that Stevie Nicks, the band’s partner on CMT Crossroads, refers to as Lady A’s “Landslide.” It could be; Charles’ vulnerable vocal and its spare arrangement render it gorgeous.

“Long Teenage Goodbye,” meanwhile, is all summery innocence, a welcome breezy love song. And “All for Love,” cliché title aside, is a Hillary and Charles duet that soars.

But it’s the one-two punch of “Better Man” and “Generation Away” that suggests Lady Antebellum is close to finding the secret for mixing easygoing music with evocative, mature lyrics. It’s musical alchemy.

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