After the May 2013 release of Golden, Lady Antebellum took a short break before returning to the studio to continue working on new music, rather than immediately going on tour to promote the album. The band came across the song "Compass" and felt so passionately about it that, despite not having a project to record it for and it coming from outside their Nashville comfort zone, they decided to record it. "From the minute we first heard it," group member Hillary Scott explained to Billboard, "we believed in the message and the overall feel of the song. We knew we could put our own little overall spin on it. We had to have the fans hear it – immediately." Scott also elaborated on the sonic departure of the song from the group's previous recordings, stating that the prevalent banjo and fiddle in "Compass" were missing from their repertoire and country music as a whole, and credited the song with "reinvigorating" the band creatively and inspiring them to pursue new musical directions.
Matt Bjorke of Roughstock described "Compass" as an "easily likable song" unlike anything else on country radio, with some of the best lyrics in recent country music releases and an "infectious, percussive and melodic melody". He also noted its potential to be the group's biggest crossover hit since "Need You Now".Taste of Country compared the bluegrass-inspired sound of the song to the music of Mumford and Sons, while praising "Compass" for being a "burst of positive energy... that relies on traditional country instruments" and suggested that the song could pave the way for bluegrass music's acceptance into the mainstream.