By: Heather Gunn
Returning from a short break, country quartet Little Big Town is back with their eighth record, The Breaker. The group has grown over the years from solid country to modern pop-inspired tracks while still holding onto their underlying southern roots.
The sound on this record is ethereal, dreamy, and the band’s most experimental to date—if you don’t count their album Wanderlust, produced by Pharrell Williams which came out last year.
Wanderlust was a breath of fresh air and something different for Little Big Town, who up until that point had stayed in the traditional country lane. But it was a short, almost EP-like project that got little media attention, and next to no radio play. This was unfortunate, since the album may have been one of the best country releases of 2016.
The Breaker is similar in concept to Wanderlust, but its’ sound is different. The Breaker is a breezy California-inspired pop trip of reminiscence. It’s simple and understated country that one minute has you feeling like dancing on the beach, and the next can have you tearing up over raw memories. They have given way from catchy country arena jams, to smooth and thoughtful melodies and lyrics.
“Lost in California” is the undeniable highlight of the record. It’s a sweeping pop-rooted song that gets its country tinge from Karen Fairchild’s effortless lead vocals. The song matches the woodsy, soft album cover artwork perfectly. The cover is like a glimpse into what is heard throughout the album – beautiful, introspective moments that remind the listener of summer, accompanied by a few well placed colourful and upbeat tracks.
“Free” is a song that paints a stunning picture. The vivid lyrics instantly bring visuals of home and summer to mind, reminding us that the best things in life are free. The album balances each group member’s voices well, with different singers taking the lead at the right times. Though Karen Fairchild’s voice stands out the most on Little Big Town projects, the others add depth, fullness, and variety to the occasionally bland melodies.
Though released as a well-promoted single, the Taylor Swift penned “Better Man” is one of the least interesting songs of the bunch. It’s okay, but nothing special when held up to the album as a whole. It lacks connection, something Swift may have brought to it herself had she recorded it. The melody is forgettable, the vocals are on the verge of grating, and it adds nothing to this otherwise well-crafted album.
The back half of the album contains two of the best songs – “Beat Up Bible” and “When Someone Stops Loving You,” the latter containing the simple yet powerful line “When someone stops loving you, it don’t make the evening news.” It’s one of those songs you wish you had written, with such obvious but clever lyrics that are utterly heart wrenching.
On “Beat Up Bible,” Kimberly Roads Schlapman offers up her delicate vocals. It’s a track that recalls earlier Little Big Town work such as “Shut Up Train,” and would make for a stunning live performance. While Schlapman doesn’t always bring immediate emotion into her performance like bandmate Karen Fairchild, her voice is a refreshing alternative to the deeper tone that Fairchild uses, and could’ve been featured on a few more tracks.
The album ends on a very “meh” note with the title track “The Breaker.” It’s a heartfelt country ballad, telling the story of someone wishing they could have been something for someone, that ultimately ends in heartbreak. While the song is nice, it ends the album on a weird and sad note. For an album that has a decent enough balance of upbeat and slowed down songs, this feels like it would’ve been better placed elsewhere on the track listing.
The Breaker adds to the constantly evolving sound Little Big Town has been producing over past few years, but doesn’t stack up with their previous albums – most notably 2012’s Tornado, which was packed with memorable songs that perfectly showcased the group’s intricate harmonies. It’s a unique blend of genres that appeases both country and pop tastes, and it’s endearing to see a country band step outside the bounds of the genre. This group is one of the few modern country acts taking risks with their sound, and they’ve yet to succumb to the rising “bro-country” movement that has infiltrated the genre. Little Big Town show a depth and versatility on this record that hopefully stays with them on future projects.
“Lost in California”
“Beat Up Bible”
“When Someone Stops Loving You”
Grade: A –
(Feature Image: The Breaker, Capitol Records)