Gloriana, A THOUSAND MILES LEFT BEHIND, Emblem/Warner Music Nashville
The Farm Inc.,THE FARM INC.,All In/Elektra Nashville
At this point, the pop-oriented segment of contemporary Nashville has to be considered more than a splinter wing. When Taylor Swift first arrived, it was a lightly tolerated anomaly; as she thrived, it became a rallying point for the country music world as a whole, a symbol of its power. Now other sorts of acts — not just young women with an ear for pop-punk mixed in with their balladry — are seeing pop crossover as part of their mandate.
Most prominently, that’s included the trio Lady Antebellum, which has resurrected 1970s soft-rock harmony through a country lens and created the most viable and affecting pop-country hybrid since Swift. Its songs tackle romantic ache from both sides, male and female, and are delivered with time-tested tricks borrowed from multiple genres: country, of course, but also rock, R&B and pop.
Lady Antebellum — two boys, one girl — is the gold standard for this sound, which is slowly becoming one of young Nashville’s de facto modes. Running a distant but respectable second is Little Big Town — two boys, two girls — a group that knocks the smoothness out of the Lady Antebellum idea and replaces it with a performed fealty to earthy roots. Lady Antebellum wants to sing about seduction and loss; the locale is secondary. For Little Big Town, the rural framework comes first.
A pair of younger country bands — both with two boys, one girl — is stomping firmly in these bands’ bootsteps. Gloriana, now on its second album, A Thousand Miles Left Behind, has the smell of Lady Antebellum all over it, and the Farm Inc. — just the Farm to its fans — has just released a self-titled debut album that suggests more flexibility in the Little Big Town template than there appeared to be. (See also: Edens Edge — two girls, one boy — which released an elegant and sometimes cheeky self-titled debut album in June.)
When Gloriana released its debut album three years ago, it appeared as if it was looking for a piggyback ride on Nashville’s youth movement; after all, at least one of its members, Cheyenne Kimball, was young and blonde.
But Kimball left the group last year, and its second incarnation — brothers Mike and Tom Gossin, and Rachel Reinert — is markedly more grown. Most of the songs on this album are Lady Antebellum manque, from the tightly clenched harmonies to the notionally frisky subject matter.
But Gloriana isn’t hot enough to be naughty, and isn’t naughty enough to be hot. Only (Kissed You) Good Night throbs with a pulse, with Tom Gossin hissing, “I should have kissed you/I should have pushed you up against the wall,” though by the time Reinert returns the sentiment, it’s been bleached free of sexual tension. More typical are Wanna Take You Home and Sunset Lovin, which never get sweaty, despite plenty of attempts at friction.
Gloriana is better when avoiding attempts at intimacy. Reinert is impressive on Go On ... Miss Me, in which she taunts the boy she used to idolize: “Back when I was 17, you were my high school dream/And boy, boy, I was stupid.” And the closer Where My Heart Belongs is a shocking improvement on much of the album. More or less a solo performance by Reinert, it doesn’t aim for the cool lust of Lady Antebellum, but Little Big Town’s earnest embrace of small town life, and it’s seductive in its own way.