See Charles Kelley's Rooftop Take on Tom Petty's 'Southern Accents' - Rolling Stone
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See Charles Kelley’s Rooftop Take on Tom Petty’s ‘Southern Accents’

Lady Antebellum singer reinterprets mid-Eighties ballad high above Los Angeles

It was during a food festival in 2013 that Charles Kelley first sang “Southern Accents,” the title track and Bible Belt tribute from Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers’ 1985 release.

“I’d always loved that song, and I always thought it would make a good country song, but I never thought about it necessarily as something Lady Antebellum would do,” says Kelley, who’d been asked by the members of Kings of Leon to make an appearance at Petty Fest, a guest-filled tribute show that took over Nashville’s War Memorial Auditorium halfway through the inaugural Music City Eats festival. Hitting the stage that night with duet partner Trisha Yearwood, Kelley — still several years shy of a solo career — was magnetic, ripping into the song’s bridge with a ferocity unseen in Lady Antebellum’s music.

Two years later, a new version of “Southern Accents” makes an appearance on The Driver, Kelley’s first release outside of his longtime vocal trio. This time, he shares lead vocals with Stevie Nicks, turning Petty’s song from a lonely man’s lament into a deconstructed duet. There’s piano, brushed percussion and some electric guitar thrown into the mix, but it’s those two entwined voices that drive the song forward.

Nicks is notably missing from this performance video, which was filmed on the Capitol Records rooftop high above a dusky Los Angeles — the same city, incidentally, where Petty tracked “Southern Accents” three decades prior. Taking her place are the members of Kelley’s road band, including A-list songwriter Abe Stoklasa, who plays lap steel, and Lady Antebellum’s familiarly braided guitarist, Jason “Slim” Gambill. Kelley is at the helm, speeding his ship forward not as a member of a three-person crew, but as the captain himself. The driver, indeed.


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