By Patricia Reaney
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Grammy-winning Kings of Leon marked a decade in music with a new album on Tuesday which critics have praised for showcasing the best of the band's talents while still moving forward in its sound.
"Mechanical Bull" is the sixth album by the Nashville-based group, formed by the Followills: brothers Caleb, Nathan and Jared and cousin Matthew. The band broke into the mainstream music scene with their 2008 album "Only By the Night," which included the hits "Use Somebody" and "Sex on Fire."
They are scheduled to hit the road to promote the album in early 2014 with a North American tour. Dates and cities will be announced next month.
"We wanted to show all our different influences throughout the years," singer/guitarist Caleb, 31, said during an interview in New York. "As time goes on you are in a different head space from album to album and hopefully you are a little better at your craft."
Kings of Leon formed in 1999 and released their first full-length studio album "Youth and Young Manhood" in 2003 to critical acclaim. The band has become known for its trademark fusion of Southern blues, country and roots rock.
The band was forced to weather some setbacks in 2011 when it canceled part of its U.S. tour citing health concerns after Caleb walked off stage during a concert in Dallas saying he couldn't sing. The band then took a break and Caleb, Nathan and Matthew became new fathers, and Jared got married.
The new album is the first recorded in the Followills' new studio in Nashville, converted from an old paint factory. The band had originally envisioned the space as a rehearsal studio, but everything gelled so well that the entire album was made there.
With 11 tracks on "Mechanical Bull" including the ballad "Comeback Story," the thumping "Supersoaker" and the rocking "Don't Matter," drummer Nathan, 34, said the album encompassed sounds from all their previous records and shows the group's growth. Critics agreed with the assessment.
"Kings of Leon have put together a striking album in 'Mechanical Bull,' one that melds the most appealing aspects from a decade of evolution," said Billboard.
The New York Daily News considered it a rebound after a year of wound-licking. "The Tennessee band's sixth disc boasts the most clear-eyed performances, finest writing and sharpest focus of KOL's career. And the band seems to know it," it said.
Rolling Stone magazine described the album as "loose and down-to-earth," adding "the production has modern sheen, yet the songs quake with soul, country and gospel history. Vocally, Followill's gruff-mystic forebear is Gregg Allman."
'COMFORTABLE IN OUR SKIN'
Caleb wrote the first two songs, "Comeback Story" and "Temple," which set the tone for the album, in late 2011 in South Africa where the group was performing.
"'Temple,' I think is the one song that you can tell how comfortable we are in our skin. It sounds like a hit from the '90s," said Caleb, who penned all the tracks.
The Followills have embraced their new roles as family men. Caleb wrote one tune that included the names of all the group's children, including his 15-month-old daughter Dixie Pearl with Victoria's Secret model wife Lily Aldridge.
"I'd hide their names throughout the lyrics. It was a great song but it was a folksy-sounding song and the rest of the record is more fast paced, rock 'n' roll, so it didn't make the cut," he said.
Both Caleb and Nathan, married to singer Jessie Baylin, admitted that the arrival of their daughters had changed their lives and how they will tour next year. The band's guitarist, Matthew, also became a father when his son was born in 2011.
Nathan said touring with children will be a different experience.
""We're trading in the beer bottles for baby bottles on this tour," said Nathan, whose daughter Violet is eight months old.
(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Cynthia Osterman)