Following an extended hiatus, Della Mae returned in 2019 with the muscular EP The Butcher Shoppe, which turned out was a mere appetizer for Headlight. On this 2020 full-length album, Celia Woodsmith, Kimber Ludiker, and Jenni Lyn Gardner decided to charge into musical territory previously unexplored by the group. With the assistance of producer Dan Knobler -- a veteran of records by Kelsey Waldon, Caroline Spence, and Lake Street Dive -- Della Mae adds considerable aural texture to their sound, weaving in keyboards, electric guitar, organ, and drums, not to mention guest harmonies from the McCrary Sisters on three songs. The expanded sonic palette allows Della Mae to dig into some genres they only nodded at in the past -- "I Like It When You're Home" has a zydeco flair, "First Song Dancer" is a bawdy blues -- and the band's enthusiasm for playing with new rhythms and textures is palpable, even infectious. Still, the heart of Headlight lies in the social activism and empowerment that has been at the center of Della Mae's music since their first record. Woodsmith wrote its title track after watching Dr. Christina Blasey Ford testify during the Senate confirmation for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, an event that also echoes through the mellow rallying cry "It's About Time." The songs have a welcome sense of urgency but they're paired with the slow, swaying "Working" and "The Long Game," where the members of Della Mae acknowledge how they're starting to feel the weight of their years, a sensation they choose to embrace rather than ignore. This calm acceptance of the passing of time helps ground Headlight, giving the songs of protest resonance and lending joy to the lighter moments, helping to turn it into a proud and quietly defiant statement of middle-aged purpose.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine