LITTLE BIG TOWN
THE GRADE B+
BOTTOM LINE Expanding the definition of country music from the inside
Nearly two decades into their career, Little Big Town is just now coming into their own.
It started with their Grammy-winning smash, “Girl Crush,” a bold, unexpected take on jealousy by couching it in seemingly pro-lesbian language — something that would not ordinarily fly on country radio, much less dominate it. Well, Little Big Town took that rule-breaking success to heart, first with last year’s Pharrell-produced pop album, “Wanderlust,” and now for their return to country with “The Breaker” (Capitol Nashville).
But this is a return on their own terms. The compressed vocal harmonies of “Drivin’ Around” makes them sound like Roxette. The opener, “Happy People,” sounds more like “Rumours”-era Fleetwood Mac than the bro country that currently fills country radio. And its lyrics are a surprisingly poignant prescription for happiness, co-penned by Lori McKenna, who also co-wrote “Girl Crush” and Tim McGraw’s Grammy-winning “Humble and Kind.” “If you want to know the secret, can’t buy it, gotta make it,” they sing. “You ain’t ever gonna be it by taking someone else’s away.”
Could McKenna be going for three Grammys in a row for best country song with this? Sure, but she may have to duke it out with Taylor Swift, who wrote Little Big Town’s current single, “Better Man.” The lovely lament about who we fall for has already topped the country charts thanks to Karen Fairchild’s gorgeous delivery of great lines like “You push my love away like it’s some kind of loaded gun.”
Of course, Little Big Town can write its own songs as well, like the shimmering country rock number “Night on Our Side,” crafted, in part, by the band’s Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook. But when you have the pick of Nashville’s best collaborators for your project, it’s no wonder that Little Big Town makes the most of it.