Lucy Hale portrays Aria Montgomery, the hippest of all the Pretty Little Liars, so there's a slight cultural dissonance by her decision to sing contemporary country, not pop, on her 2014 debut album, Road Between. It's country in its intent and often in its pedigree -- the record is largely produced by ex-Whiskeytown member Mike Daly (who went on to co-write with Jason Mraz), Kacey Musgraves co-wrote "That's What I Call Crazy," and Joe Nichols duets on "Red Dress" -- but the feel of Road Between is pristine pop, thanks in large part to Hale's crisp, chipper delivery. Grit is a foreign concept to Hale, a point that's accentuated on "Red Dress" when Nichols' baritone twang makes her precise enunciation seem extra earnest, but that eagerness to please is also often charming, particularly when combined with Daly's bright production. Generally, Road Between is better when it's lighter. When the tempo slows, so does the momentum, but it's not Hale's fault; she handles the melodrama well, scaling emotional peaks with the aplomb of a music theater student, but the ballads are often overblown, emphasizing production instead of tune. Conversely, the sprightlier moments -- which include Shania-styled foot-stomps like "Goodbye Gone" and also the swaying, midtempo summer song "From the Backseat" -- are strongly melodic and Daly accentuates the hooks expertly, piling on the guitars, backing vocals, and keyboards without seeming excessive or burying Hale's voice. When this formula works -- and it often does, highlighted by the effervescent first single "You Sound Good to Me," the breezy "Kiss Me" (not a Sixpence None the Richer cover but nevertheless sounding as if it could've fit on the soundtrack to She's All That), and the mild swagger of "Lie a Little Better" -- Road Between is irrepressibly charming commercial pop.
AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine
feat: Joe Nichols