The title of the current single from Lady Antebellum's sophomore album is ''American Honey,'' and that also serves as a useful handle for the sticky-sweet sounds being pumped out by a new breed of Music City busy bees. Lady A, Sugarland, Gloriana: In just a few short years, these young coed country acts have become an integral part of the Nashville establishment, selling melodic, manicured roots music to folks whose iPods pair Coldplay with Carrie Underwood. Since its release in 2008, Lady Antebellum's self-titled debut has moved nearly 1.5 million copies a huge number these days for anyone not named Taylor Swift.
On Need You Now, they try to define themselves outside the hive, and though the disc contains no shortage of uptempo charmers ''Perfect Day,'' ''Stars Tonight'' they're most successful when they keep to the moody minor-key stuff, such as the title track, ''Hello World,'' and ''Ready to Love Again.'' That's where Charles Kelley's and Hillary Scott's voices intertwine with a piercing white-soul lilt that feels uniquely theirs. . They harmonize so prettily over the piano-laced pulse of ''Need You Now'' that it takes you a couple of spins to realize that the tune is a virtual rewrite of ''Eye in the Sky'' by the Alan Parsons Project. ''It's a quarter after one, I'm a little drunk, and I need you now,'' they sing with disarming honesty. Little whiskey with your honey? Yes, please. B+