Before I started this blog I wasn’t hugely familiar with Little Big Town, since their fame in the U.K. is niche at best. Many of my fellow Americana bloggers seemed to scoff at them, as though they were just another bad example of pop county and the Nashville big machine. However when I caught them live at C2C festival a couple of years ago I was pleasantly surprised how much I enjoyed their set. This new album Nightfall has been mainly produced by the band themselves, alongside Golden Hour producers Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk.
While a band like this don’t set trends themselves, their work and choice of songs has always been admirable in comparison with some other mainstream, major label county artists. Unfortunately this also means that they too have fallen victim to the current banishment of women from the country music radio airwaves, despite their previous success. Luckily for the listener that seems to have freed them to do something much more interesting on this album.
There’s a lush feeling to the sound of Nightfall, established from the beautiful opening song Next To You, and continued on the enjoyable title track. The band return to working with Girl Crush writers the Love Junkies on Throw Your Love Away. It’s a bittersweet song, with the lovely (and underrated) Kimberley Schlapman on lead.
Musically these opening songs fit into the Golden Hour hybrid style, which I actually think suits the band well. At this point they offer a more obviously ‘country’ song with Over Drinking Over You which sounds like a surefire hit to me (and in any normal world where women are actually played on the radio, it would be).
It’s somewhat strange then that the band chooses to follow that with Wine Beer Whiskey which almost contradicts the previous song lyrically and musically totally jars. Maybe they feel the need to lighten the mood with a party song, but I think it detracts from the cohesive tone of the album. For me the men are the weak link in this band – when they take lead duties I’m much less inclined to enjoy the music (sorry guys), although a song like Problem Child is a hundred times more worthy than anything by the other bros on the country charts, so I probably shouldn’t criticise them too much.
What I do love to see is how many writing credits Karen Fairchild has here – including album stand out Grammy nominated song The Daughters, co written with Sean McConnell and Ashley Ray. When I first heard this song I thought it was really brave and powerful, and as time has gone on it has just grown in my estimation. There’s something so moving to me in the subtle way Fairchild sings about the horror of what is happening to women in this world right now. Her vocal talent and the way she can bring these words alive emotionally is why Taylor Swift gave Better Man to this band. When she sings I’m still looking for a god for the daughters, you believe and understand the real despair conveyed in every word.
Sugar Coat tells the story of a woman struggling to cope with the unravelling of her ‘perfect’ life and image, again sung with real emotional depth by Fairchild. For a vocal group like this choosing songs is a complex art and I think their success is partly down to the fact that they have a good ear for quality – for example it wasn’t a surprise to me to see the brilliant Lori McKenna in the writing credits for this one.
Bluebird is another highlight of the album, full of hopeful joy and with a sparkling Karen Carpenter influence to the music (never a bad thing in my book). Even the songs that echo other styles rather than doing anything unique or particularly memorable like River of Stars and closing track Trouble With Forever are still an enjoyable listen.
Overall Nightfall is an album of real warmth, suggesting Little Big Town have something to say and much to contribute to mainstream country music. I really hope to hear the new songs live in the U.K. this year, so fingers crossed for a tour announcement soon.