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Lady Antebellum, ‘Golden’(Capitol Nashville/Universal)

No one would call Lady Antebellum’s fourth studio effort stripped down, but the power trio’s sound is noticeably cleaner on “Golden.” The choice gives lead singers Charles Kelley and Hillary Scott some room to breathe, and the result is a noticeably fresher set of songs than 2011’s collection of overproduced power ballads, “Own The Night.”

The difference is immediately apparent on the single “Downtown,” which reached No. 1 on the country charts last week. Perhaps tellingly, the group did not have a hand in writing the playful song that features a commanding lead vocal from Scott.

But it is on “It Ain’t Pretty,” which marks “Golden’s” halfway point, that Scott truly impresses and the album turns the corner from a competent, somewhat boring pop exercise into something more interesting. Over a simple piano arrangement, she narrates a night of bad decisions on the heels of a hard breakup, and for once Lady Antebellum manages to make a sad song sound truly sad.

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The result is striking and sets the table for the album’s excellent back half, which includes the moving “Can’t Stand The Rain,” with a solid lead vocal from Kelley, and a catchy, almost cloying closing number in “Generation Away.”

Owen R. Smith, Seattle Times freelancer

Other new releases

She & Him, “Volume 3” (Merge)

Fitz & the Tantrums, “More Than Just a Dream” (Elektra)

Rod Stewart, “Time” (Capitol)

Note: Fitz & the Tantrums appear Wednesday at the Columbia City Theater.

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