Before their highly-anticipated 2012 release, ‘Tornado’, I had never listened to Little Big Town (I know, I know!), but I have to say I’d be interested in any further music from them after hearing this album. It’s orientated towards the pop side of country music in the song structures, vocals and melody lines, but there are also a lot of country elements that set it aside for me.
The first song, ‘Pavement Ends’, is a great example of the country involved in this album, with the main theme being played by the banjo, which hits you in the face as soon as you hear it. In addition, a southern rock vibe is created through the use of distorted guitar and the ‘hoedown’ feel that reminds me a little of bluegrass in places. The lyrics celebrate escaping civilization with phrases such as ‘turn off the phone, it’s never too late to cast a line’, and ‘out here the world don’t spin, everything stops where the pavement ends’. It’s a fast-paced, catchy number that is a great launch to the album and celebration of all things backwoods in a technological age.
The next song, ‘Pontoon’, was the album’s lead-off single and LBT’s fastest-rising single to date, hitting #1 on the Country Charts. It has a bit of a bluesy feel, and released back in April it was a great soundtrack for summer, seeing as it’s purely about relaxing on a pontoon in the sun. It gives the same kind of vibe as Sugarland’s ‘All I Want To Do’, which was another summer hit a few years ago and ran along a similar theme. A mandolin hook and a clap-beat rule this track, and although it differs lyrically from the previous song, it keeps it similar musically and a mood begins to spread. They change it up for ‘Sober’, however, a ballad which compares being in love to the feeling of being drunk, and not wanting to be without that when they die. It’s songs like these that take real advantage of the atmosphere created by LBT’s 4-part harmonies, as it sounds so big and profound. This is another mandolin-heavy track, and is a sweet song that is worth a few listens.
‘Front Porch Thing’ takes us back to that bluesy southern rock feel with a heavy heaping of twang. It’s much in the same vein as ‘Pavement Ends’, celebrating playing country music on the front porch, and describing how it can overcome all the misfortunes in life. The energy rises again with this track before dropping down further than before with a heartfelt ballad, ‘Your Side of the Bed’. With steel guitar and strumming the dull strings of an acoustic guitar, it perfectly demonstrates the desperate loneliness felt by a couple whose communication has completely broken down. It’s structured like a duet, with big belting choruses and moving lines such as ‘How’d you get so far away? All we have are the memories of the love we made’.
Following this, LBT continue the theme of heartbreak, and ‘Leavin’ In Your Eyes’ feels like the sequel to ‘Your Side of the Bed’, made clear in lines such as ‘you ain’t hiding but I can’t find you’, and ‘no sign of life, no everything, at all’, depicting the lack of communication and the end of a relationship that both people are too scared to make official. It’s more pop-orientated and commercial than the other songs on this album due to a reduction in ‘country’ instruments, replaced by computerized effects, and sweet harmonies and an emphasis on piano that wouldn’t be out of place on a pop record. For this reason it may well be a third single. Having said this, it’s a deep, thought-provoking and powerful song, and continues the atmosphere created by previous tracks.
However, we’re not gently eased out of this mood as ‘Tornado’, the title track and second single, hits hard, to match the metaphor. This song has a heavy emphasis on the clap-beat and we’re back to the twang of southern rock with distorted guitars playing sporadically throughout. This song is far more focused on a lead singer with background vocalists than some of the others, which is a nice change. The song is full of tornado references and metaphors as expected, and compares the female sexual predator with a wind storm, crashing through and ‘looking for a soul to take’. There’s some powerful imagery and the whole album seems to be full of simple but effective lyrics. It has a cool vibe with a defocus on melody.
‘On Fire Tonight’ is another possible future single, as it’s a big, feel-good, singalong song about daring to be free and engage in good times. It’s very repetitive which enhances its singalong factor. This again is less country than the others, instead filling it with lots of claps (for the unity feel), electric guitars, a harmonica and a lot of different sounds such as what I think is a saxophone, but difficult to recognize because it’s such a busy mix with lots going on.
Yet again LBT drop down again to one of the highlights on the album for me, a ballad called ‘Can’t Go Back’. It’s a folk-style ballad with their 4-part harmonies sounding particularly beautiful, and some gorgeous lyrics such as ‘the tumblin’ reservations at the heart of my mistakes’, which I just love. In ambiguous terms, it details the acceptance of change and having to move on for the good of everything. This is something a lot of people relate to and certainly I do, and is characterized by the gentle banjo and acoustic guitar. In fact, much of the song is built on the vocals which really gives it an amazing atmosphere.
I feel like there is too much chopping and changing on this album already, but again Self-Made jumps in, a southern rock, electric guitar-laden, drum-filled ode to the working man and the importance of building a life for yourself from scratch. The song includes a couple of screaming guitar solos and a very full production. For the final song, ‘Night Owl’ is another folk ballad with a stripped down mix, focused on the acoustic guitar and relying on their harmonies to carry the track. There is occasionally a xylophone adding to the lullaby feel of the song, and maracas building up the mix from the second verse onwards. It’s full of dreamy lyrics such as ‘county lights and water towers, I’m making ground burning daylight hours, getting lost in rolling fields and pastures’ and is a song of waiting for their lover to come home. It’s a really nice, relaxing song, which is a satisfying end to the album.
Overall, this album can appear a little messy with the running order that drops down and jumps back up a lot, however the central themes of love, heartbreak and country life unify it and the particular emphasis on a bluesy southern rock helps as well. This is a great album that has a lot to offer country music, and can appeal to fans of more countrypop, country rock and country folk-orientated listeners. It’s a nice breath of fresh air for Nashville that plays with musical boundaries. I really recommend it.
You can buy it here.
CMTT Music Contributor
For my blog that examines issues in country music and responds to the latest news with my opinion, go to forthecountryrecord.tumblr.com. For ranting, funny retweets and all round silliness, follow me on Twitter @planmymistake