The stars will align personally and professionally for singer Charles Kelley in February: He is expecting his first child and releasing his first solo record apart from the country vocal group Lady Antebellum.
After years of trying to conceive, Kelley and his wife, Cassie, found out last year they would be parents just as the Georgia native started working on a different sound separate from his bandmates, Hillary Scott and Dave Haywood.
The album, The Driver, is due out Feb. 5; their baby, a boy, is due the same month.
“Some would say great timing and some would say poor timing,” Kelley, 34, said with a smile. “You can never predict when a baby is going to come, but I am so excited.”
The trio announced at the end of their Wheels Up tour last year that they would be taking a hiatus, but it will be a productive break for the group. Scott, too, announced she is recording a gospel album with her family during the time off.
On The Driver, Kelley explores his own musical heritage and influences ranging from Southern rock to ’70s folk singers on songs that he admits probably wouldn’t have been a fit for the Lady A catalog.
He channels Bob Seger on Leaving Nashville, a piano ballad about the highs and lows of life on Music Row, and enlists the legendary Stevie Nicks to duet on a cover of Tom Petty’s Southern Accents.
“For me, as an artist, I do have other things that I am into and styles of music,” Kelley said. “I just knew that if I never did this, it would never see the light of day.”
But it hasn’t been an easy reinvention.
He announced a solo club tour, but then postponed several shows (including a mid-December stop at Dallas’ House of Blues) so he could finish the recording. The tour had been scheduled to feature Arlington native Maren Morris as an opening act.
And he learned he had to reintroduce himself to fans.
“I am kind of a new artist again, and we really needed to get the word out there,” Kelley said of postponing the tour.
Kelley admits that it has been a big change playing clubs again when Lady Antebellum virtually skipped that step, starting out opening up in amphitheaters and arenas for acts like Martina McBride, Keith Urban and Tim McGraw.
Their first two albums released in 2008 and 2010 went multiplatinum, carried by songs like Love Don’t Live Here and the crossover hit Need You Now.
“You get so used to hearing 15,000 people scream and sing your songs back that it’s a little jarring,” Kelley said of his solo shows. “I have to walk off stage and go, ‘OK, I am going for a different response here.’ ”
Kelley shines when he sings solo, but he is an expert harmonizer on songs like the regretful I Wish You Were Here, which features Miranda Lambert. And the title song, a three-part harmony with Dierks Bentley and Eric Paslay, already earned him a Grammy nomination for best country duo/group performance.
“In an ideal world, I would love to hop back and forth between these two projects,” Kelley said of Lady Antebellum and his solo work. “Both worlds are equally exciting. They are just fun for different reasons.”
Additional reporting by Preston Jones