On the song "Leaving Nashville," singer Charles Kelley delves into the personal and professional struggles that a songwriter faces after tasting a modicum of success. The complex narrative establishes why this member of the country trio Lady Antebellum wanted to record a solo album: Kelley's intimate, emotional performance would have sounded out of place with a group identified with vocal interplay and harmonies.
Kelley's album, "The Driver," focuses on moody, dramatic songs about love (the outstanding "The Only One Who Gets Me") and life on the road ("The Driver").
Working with producer Paul Worley, Kelley mostly ignores country music's recent obsession with beat-driven tracks that incorporate hip-hop and hard rock. Instead, Kelley's sound draws on '70s and '80s mid-tempo adult rock.
In a duet with Stevie Nicks, he nails the stubborn social commentary in Tom Petty's "Southern Accents." Elsewhere, he takes cues from the heartland rock of Bob Seger ("Your Love") and the silky soul of Boz Scaggs ("Lonely Girl").
Kelley keeps things tight — the nine songs clock in under 40 minutes — to maintain a steady mood. A theme album in an age of singles, "The Driver" is another fine example that country music is poised to shift away stifling trends and strive toward a more individually expressive era.