Lucy Hale takes a road straight through mediocre pop country on her debut LP, The Road Between. The singer turned actress turned…singer…spends the album trying to be herself but comes out something of a boring cross between herself, Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert.
Hale’s Swift songs fit the right mold. Some follow the pattern of commenting on the more subtle sources of learning about love and relationships. “From the Backseat” is Hale’s reflection on the things she learned from observing her parents in the backseat of the family car. While it’s a nice sentiment, the song embodies the overall problem with the LP: nice ideas, poor execution. Hale spends parts of the verses attempting to world build, but such lines as “Three hours deep into South Dakota / I was working on a lukewarm Coca-Cola [Trademark] / In the dog days of July,” sound more like parts of a school presentation on the family vacation than song lyrics. Hale’s other Swift songs suffer the same fate: All come from the adolescent/romantic sources, but lack poetic qualities of the original T-swizzle.
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Hale also tries for Lambert/Pistol Annies-style man hunting, noticeably on “Goodbye Gone.” Here, the Pretty Little Liar lacks the same fire, conviction, and supreme girl power that makes grown men quake in their boots at the sight of Lambert’s. Hale retains too much of the passivity of Swift for these songs to truly work; the “kiss off” is too teenage breakup instead of a woman’s “fury like hell hath no.”
However there are still redeeming moments on the record. If Hale has one good thing going for her, it is the team of musicians, engineers, and producers behind her. The arrangements contain tasteful, usually subdued, elements that add strong flavors to the tracks. From flourishes of slide guitar on “From the Backseat” to Skynyrd-style, pouding organ on “That’s What I Call Crazy” and Gospel Choir on “You Sound Good To Me” these sounds of the south help legitimize and build excitement for this country girl. Hale also recruits country crooner Joe Nichols for duet, and the LP’s best track, “Red Dress.” Nichol’s traditional, deep, twang contrasts well with Hale’s and help’s conjure up the evocative atmosphere that makes the song so stand out.
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In the title track, Hale describes how she is still “learning how to write my story,” and that describes the entire record perfectly. Hale puts a lot of good ideas into her songs, but those ideas are not communicated effectively. At a baseline, maybe she should join the Nashville bandwagon and have pros write all of her songs. I know country songs can often be biographic stories, but these just reek of mediocrity.
Voices Choices: “Red Dress,” “Lie A Little Better”