MOMENTOUS MONDAYS: INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF ALL TIME – WEEK 67: LITTLE BIG TOWN

Sometimes I wonder why it often takes something drastic around the world to make us all look more inward, appreciating things like family and friends, especially during such a difficult time in 2020 around the world because of COVID-19. I mean, to put it in a blunt way, why did it have to take a global pandemic like COVID-19 to make us all ponder, think and wonder, to better our relationships with our family, to realise that we don’t need as much as we think we do, to understand the importance of friendships, to entertain the idea that maybe, just maybe, we shouldn’t be as involved with technology as maybe we were prior? I know, very blunt and crude in my own assumptions, that such a pandemic like COVID-19 makes us realise things about ourselves and others that maybe we just haven’t realised before…but I’ve realised that that indeed is very much true. I know for me, during this time of quarantining and isolation, of having a break from work and using the time to connect more with people around me, I’ve realised a few things. That over these last few months, it is often things like TV shows, music and movies, that often get us through difficult times and struggles, be it in the form of an escapist TV show, a movie about superheroes, or even a favourite album from a favourite artist that speaks to you, both when the album was recorded and released, and even now. Music I reckon, has the power to change lives from the drop of a hat- you hear a song that just hits your soul, and from then on, you’re not really the same. A song that challenges your preconceptions and misunderstandings about this and that. It is in these songs, and the artists that sing them where I’ve started to write about. Not necessarily the most popular artists (the ones that have so many accolades, but alas, songs that don’t necessarily tug at the soul, but rather just give us a cool beat), but it is the influential ones, that artists that may be popular, but also could be under-the-radar as well, that have really challenged my own views of society as a whole, especially during this COVID-19 2020 year.

As many of you all have realised, if you’ve read up to now in terms of my blog posts, that I started this project a year and a half ago. Back then, I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. I mean, maybe I did, but as I stand one and a half years later in October 2020 (as opposed to when I started writing an introductory post in February 2019), a fair amount of the artists I’ve written about over the year, and the artists I’m writing about now and into the future…a lot of them weren’t on the provisional list that I created way back in February 2019. Let’s say about 50% of the artists I’ve written about since then, weren’t initially thought of upon me writing the list the first time around in February last year. And maybe that’s a good thing. From initially starting the blog series with just around 1 years’ worth of artists to discuss (let’s say around 65 blog post entries), to expanding it to 100, then roping in another 20 to become ‘timeless artists), to continuously altering the 100 influential artists list, to increasing the 20 influential timeless artists list, to 30 (and now currently at 50); let’s just say that this list that we have at the moment is as fluid as anything. And maybe that’s a good thing. Lists always change, and this artist/band I’m about to discuss for this week, is actually one of the late-edition artists I’ve decided to delve into and add to this ever-fluctuating list of artists that have broadened my perspective of what good music is, and what influential artists have contributed to music and society as a whole…and maybe that’s ok.

It is in the reflection of realising that artists that you may have thought were influential are now only popular (and vice versa) that we understand that music speaks to people in a variety of different ways. Who a person thinks is influential, another can think that they’re popular…but whatever the case, one cannot deny that a certain handful of artists in their own respective genres, whether people like them as their favourite artists or not, still have contributed much to society and music. To last as long as many of these artists have, that I’ve discussed here in this blog; is nothing short of a miracle. Michael W. Smith, Josh Groban, Carrie Underwood, DC Talk, Phil Collins, Shania Twain, Newsboys, Skillet, Steven Curtis Chapman, Carman, Tina Arena, Delirious?, Backstreet Boys, Hanson, Hillsong, Chris Tomlin, the Goo Goo Dolls, John Farnham and Keith Urban, are just some of the many, many artists I’ve decided to write about, that have longevity and time on their side as an ally when it comes to creating music that resonates with people. It often seems like the longer that you are in an industry that seems to spit out as much new artists as it can chew, the more that people in a general sense respect you and your music. Enter in another artist that has managed to keep going in their music and craft for a bit less than 20 years thus far- Little Big Town.

I’ve listened to country music before within the last year and a half, most of them in conjunction with me discussing their music as part of my blog series. Artists like Shania Twain, Martina McBride, Lady A, Keith Urban, Carrie Underwood, Faith Hill, The McClymonts, Rascal Flatts, Sheryl Crow and Jewel have all been instrumental and impactful within the confines of country music and beyond, and have all reminded me of how central and crucial country music really is to the fabric of music itself. It’s just that as I was listening to Little Big Town and their music this last week, it struck out to me for a number of reasons. Maybe it’s because I like to draw comparisons to other artists that I seem to find this correlation, maybe it’s just there and other people see it too- for when you review music, you tend to think ‘gee, this artist sounds like that artist’, maybe even on a subconscious basis, without even knowing it. For Little Big Town’s music, I immediately thought they were like the modern-day ABBA or even Fleetwood Mac, but in a country way, and not in a bad way either. I’ve realised that often the more and more I listen to artists and bands over the last year and a half, where I go into it with virtually no idea of them whatsoever (except for a few hit songs that I’d know), I tend to be the most surprised- and that is as good thing. Little Big Town are the type of band where you listen to them, and you think you’ve heard them for years, even if it’s your first-time hearing. Especially if you mesh together the music of ABBA, Fleetwood Mac, Christian CCM/country group Point of Grace, even drawing upon similar styles akin to that of Keith Urban and Martina McBride, you get a band that is very familiar, but still very distinct in their music in terms of what they’re singing about. Little Big Town, I reckon, is a band where fans of them would’ve probably started being fans because they were fans of another group prior- a lot of their fans could’ve been fans initially because they sound similar to say an artist like Fleetwood Mac, but maybe as time drew on, the band grew into their own, and fans enjoyed their music just because. I know that’s what occurred for me this last week. And maybe that’s an ok way of showing listeners that just because you draw inspiration from a few bands that are popular back in the day, doesn’t mean that the music you’re playing now is anything of a lesser quality. More so the opposite. It is in realising that inspirations from long before, mixed together and fused with your own band identity, can make something beautiful, poignant, honest, heartfelt, and compelling, is something of a miracle right there. Karen Fairchild, Jimi Westbrook, Kimberley Schlapman and Phillip Sweet have all been in the group since its inception in 1998, and it is because of their constant band lineup that I reckon the band itself has become successful for as many years as it has had up until 2020. It is in the realisation that this group has stuck together since the beginning that it gets some admiration and respect from not only critics, but listeners, lovers of country music, and just appreciators of music itself, alike!

Little Big Town started as a group in 1998, and while the group itself didn’t record their first self-titled album until 2002, the band nevertheless still stuck at their music, moving from Mercury Nashville Records to Monument Records in order to get their first big break. For if a band in and of itself takes quite some time for their debut album to release, for whatever reason, I automatically notice that this is a band to take notice of, and realise and understand that for a band to take as long as it has to make a first record, then they must have the perseverance through all the difficulty, and have something worthwhile the say in the meantime. Little Big Town went through some hoops in creating their first album (see Wikipedia for a lot of details), but once the first album dropped, the albums kept coming at a steady pace, up until now in 2020 with the band just releasing their 9th studio album that was unveiled at the top end of 2020. With the band being a band and being in the industry for more than 20 years, Kimberly, Phillip, Jimi and Karen have all created music that is something unique and special, as we’re presented the understanding, notion and fact that an ABBA style of music can thrive in and of itself, within the confines of country music. This is exactly what Little Big Town created with their music thus far- an avenue to enjoy music similar and akin to ABBA or Fleetwood Mac, all the while never losing the country roots to begin with.

I think the first song that I heard from Little Big Town was the song ‘Better Man’. Emotional, heavy, heartfelt and poignant, I would say that even though ‘Better Man’ itself wasn’t written by the quartet in any way (it was written by none other than Taylor Swift), I’d have to say that ‘Better Man’ the song has since become synonymous with Little Big Town, a reminder that sometimes a song just comes and becomes part of an artist’s core identity, even if the artist who’s recorded didn’t really have any hand in the writing of it in the first place. Nevertheless, ‘Better Man’ the song is one that even I knew from hearing the first words of it throughout this past week. Little Big Town have presented a song full of reflection, love and loss, as this Taylor Swift song reminds us all to have an attitude of gratitude and thanks, to always strive to become better men and women, and to always acknowledge things when they happen, if they are good, appreciating our happenings in our lives, never glossing over our moments and becoming someone who didn’t realise what they had, until it was gone or either taken away. ‘Better Man’ encourages us all to find our inner spark to push forward in the face of love and loss, to understand that sometimes in life, people don’t always hold the candle to the idealised version of themselves, and we often become disappointed with what they have become. Regardless, ‘Better Man’, is as much a song of lament as it is a song about moving forward, of dusting yourself off, collecting what was shattered and broken, and moving from a destructive moment into one of healing and hope. A track that will continue to be synonymous with the band, even as the years continue to roll on by; ‘Better Man’ is one of Little Big Town’s crowning achievements, and a track that I’m sure anyone goes to first when wanting to check out a Little Big Town song, since its song release in 2017 onward. As the band divulge the meaning behind the song, we see that ‘…a lot of times in life, there are things that you have to walk away from that don’t necessarily feel like the greatest decision to have to make in your life, but sometimes you just know that it’s time to move on, and no matter how hard that is, you just know down in your heart that it’s time to do that…’

I know I’m probably better off on my own than lovin’ a man who didn’t know
What he had when he had it, and I see the permanent damage you did to me
Never again, I just wish I could forget when it was magic
I wish it wasn’t four am, standing in the mirror, saying to myself, you know you had to do it I know
The bravest thing I ever did was run
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I can feel you again, but I just miss you
And I just wish you were a better man, and I know why we had to say goodbye
Like the back of my hand, and I just miss you
And I just wish you were a better man a better man
I know I’m probably better off all alone than needing a man who could change his mind
At any given minute, and it’s always on your terms
I’m hanging on every careless word hoping it might turn sweet again
Like it was in the beginning, but your jealousy, I can hear it now
You’re talking down to me like I’ll always be around
You push my love away like it’s some kind of loaded gun
Boy, you never thought I’d run
Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I can feel you again, but I just miss you
And I just wish you were a better man, and I know why we had to say goodbye
Like the back of my hand, and I just miss you
And I just wish you were a better man a better man

Excerpt of ‘Better Man’, from Little Big Town’s 2017 album The Breaker

Even though I reckon the song ‘Better Man’ is a perfect place to start off with, if you’re wanting to get into Little Big Town and their music, the band still has a lot more songs that are equally as impactful as ‘Better Man’ (but obviously, of obvious reasons, not as popular!), songs that have catapulted their music career to new heights over the years. ‘Little White Church’, from the band’s 2010 album The Reason Why, is an upbeat-tempo country twanger as the band present a call-and-answer style song about the frustration a woman can feel if they’re with a guy who seems to be dragging his feet and not popping the marriage question. The song itself speaks about asserting a woman’s authority, and not going along with the man’s indecisiveness, as we’re reminded ourselves that to drag our feet, not just in the marriage and dating department, but to drag our feet in anything, can often lead to consequences in our lives that we ourselves may not necessarily want. ‘Boondocks’ and ‘Bones’ are both songs that were written, recorded, and sung around the time when their record label Sony was in the process of dropping them as a client. While both songs ‘Bones’ and ‘Boondocks’ remind us listeners to always be sure of where we as people come from in regards to our own heritage (‘Boondocks’) and also give us enough courage to approach people you know have bones in their closets for whatever reason, and then hopefully with grace and poise, call them out on it (‘Bones’); it is the production of these songs and the situations that were happening to the band around that time, that influenced, not only these two tracks but their second album (2005) atmosphere as a whole:
‘…we were towards the end of getting dropped from Sony at that time. And we started making this music in that void. And there was a song that Wayne had, this little rolling, picking thing. It was like ‘Bones.’ The song ‘Bones’ and ‘Boondocks’ lived in the same world there for a minute. ‘Boondocks,’ the original title for that was ‘Waiting For the Sun to Go Down.’ But that line was actually used in ‘Bones.’ And you get that rolling/picking thing. So you had that little piece that eventually became a line in ‘Bones.’ But ‘Boondocks,’ that melody, we weren’t really jiving on ‘waiting for the sun to go down’ – that just wasn’t strong enough for the end of that melody that ‘Boondocks’ was. So we lived with it for a little bit, we all tried to work on the lyric. But then one day Wayne came in and he said, ‘What if it was: ‘I feel no shame, I’m proud of where I came from, I was born and raised in the boondocks.” And we were like ‘Yeah.’ It was just instant. And that song took off and it became what it was. And when we started working on ‘Bones,’ just ‘what goes around comes around, feel it breathing down heavy on you.’ All that stuff, real moody, it just seemed to fit that lyric, that context seemed to fit better into that kind of music. So it worked its way into ‘Bones,’ which turned out to be another thing. But really ‘Boondocks’ was inspired by us just wanting to speak about who we are and what we’re about. Because there seemed to be a little bit of confusion there at Sony when we were signed there that we were a put-together band, or we weren’t country, we’re too slick. And nowadays you wouldn’t even get those kinds of questions; but at that time it just seemed really strange. And I don’t think radio really understood who we were yet. So we just wanted to write this, and it was therapy for us and it was a chance for us to really make a statement about our roots. And that’s really what it was…’

While the band’s self-titled debut album really is in fact a non-event, in relation to the recognition the album actually received when it was unveiled in the early 2000s (and the fact that the band itself didn’t really gain much traction and popularity until their second album), Little Big Town still gave to us a few songs here and there that were standouts. ‘Don’t Waste My Time’, the band’s first official radio single ever, reminds me of something that CCM/country all-female group Point of Grace would record, as we see such a song remind us all to not settle for things that you know isn’t up to your own standard- especially when it comes to spouses, dating, and being in relationship with somebody. ‘Don’t Waste My Time’ presents a persona who only wants to ‘play for keeps’, only wanting someone if they know that they are for them, and while I myself may have a little issue with the song, in that more often than not, the search to find ‘mr/mrs right’ can often make us lose sight of the people we have been meant to focus our eyes upon; ‘Don’t Waste My Time’ nevertheless encourages us all to see which areas in our own lives, be it relationship or otherwise, that we need to refocus our time on, and what areas of our lives we shouldn’t waste our time on, either. ‘Stay’, originally from the band’s 1st album (and re-recorded for their 2005 second album), is a song where the persona is in full knowledge and is accepting that the person they’re singing to- either a lover, a friend or even a familial relation, is going away for quite some time. The song ‘Stay’ is a pleading track, wanting the other person to stay a little longer, enough for the persona to get a little stronger and handle the departure of this particular person for an extended period of time. ‘Kiss Goodbye’, from the band’s 2010 album The Reason Why, is a song of honesty and realness, as the band presents life in a way where often you want to chase after something that cannot be chased, that when we lose something or someone (for whatever reason), all we can do, is just watch the thing/person move away. It may hurt for a season, but in the long run, we just bless this thing that has moved along from our lives, and just try to live each day without this special thing/someone. ‘Kiss Goodbye’ is an emotive track, and reminds us all to hopefully decipher early on, what things we ought to hold onto for dear life, and what we know we can part with and still be ok. ‘Shut Up Train’, also on The Reason Why, is indeed a song about just that- longing and wishing for a train to stop it’s noise and travelling at weird and wonderful hours of the night, because the persona is trying to go to bed. A song that is just a tongue-in-cheek track that is meant to portray the inward turmoil of someone trying to sleep, but is still anxious and worried that the train may not be quiet but gain on its noise in the middle of the night; the band continues to deliver radio hits after radio hits, to become one of country music’s underrated quartet in quite some time…maybe it’s because they themselves have a musical style and a vocal quality to that of groups like Fleetwood Mac or ABBA, that their popularity has increased, which is a very good thing indeed.

‘Why, Oh Why’, also from their 2010 album, is a song of hopeful anticipation, and asking the question why- this persona keeps coming back to a destructive relationship, but never really trying really hard to break it because of the charm and the seductive quality of this person that leads to this persona feeling trapped in their own place; while ‘The Reason Why’, the title track; is your classic country love song, stating that this person is the reason why you’re in this state of happiness and bliss at the moment. As the band offer up their own thoughts on the track, we see that ‘…we all collectively just felt like the mood would feel better and it would reflect us more truly if it really talked about the love, the goodness that we’re feeling at this moment right now. And ‘I could go and fall for you and never even try,’ because that was the truth about where Jim and Karen are with each other, where we are in our relationships respectively, in our life with young kids coming into our world in the last two years. And so there’s been a lot of joy and happiness where we’re at in our career and our lives, and it’s just like, Wow, how cool is this that we’re getting to do this and right now we’re having this amazing time and we’re all happy and we’re all friends; we’re not fighting. So there’s a lot of layers of emotion there for that song to come out of us. That’s why it felt like it could have multiple meanings, whether it’s relationship or a loved one. But it’s being thankful for the things in your life that make you motivated to wake up every day. But that’s where we took that song, just that love approach. It all starts between two star-crossed lovers; everything comes from there. So when that’s strong, good things can happen, and that song just felt right for the lyric direction to go there. It needed a big jangly jam at the end, and we had those lyrics, ‘Come on and take my hand, I’m ready and willing over and over again.’ Just that joy of love…’ ‘Bring It On Home’ from their 2005 album, speaks of a friend of someone who’s feeling like they’re in a difficult place, and this friend is hopefully giving the comfort that is needed; while songs like ‘Lean Into It’ and ‘You Can’t Have Everything’ showcase the heartfelt and emotive side of Little Big Town– the former being the album ender to the 2010 album The Reason Why and speaks about the issue of perseverance, and fighting little battles along the way from A to B, and that often when faced with difficult circumstances, the perseverance comes from fighting through it, rather than avoiding around it; while the latter is a song borne directly out of singer Kimberly Schlapman’s husband’s passing, and her own dealings with it all. As the other band members have said, ‘…we kind of vicariously lived through Kimberly’s emotion of her losing her husband to a heart attack several years back. We let her play the role of the actress, of the loss that you experience in the song. But she really experienced a loss of death in her own marriage. So there was a lot of emotion to dig from in there. But we started writing that in the previous record, and then when we came around to writing for The Reason Why, we dusted it off, and that’s when we changed the ‘oh well’ to ‘I guess.’ And everything came together, and we were like, ‘this song feels perfect.’ It says it…’ ‘A Little More You’, also from the band’s second album The Road to Here, presents a persona who is encouraging the other who they’re in a relationship with, to overcome their hesitancy and to ‘give a little more you’, not holding back love but rather giving into the emotion of love, affection, and surrendering into the understanding that when in a true relationship, to be all in on a relationship isn’t as daunting or even terrifying as people often think; while ‘Good as Gone’, a song that has a lot of musical comparisons (at least to me) to Rascal Flatts’ ‘Banjo’ (since Little Big Town’s song came before Rascal Flatts’, did ‘Banjo’ draw ‘inspiration’ from this Little Big Town song?), speaks of a realisation that someone has about a relationship that is ultimately failing, seeing the signs of failure and realising that they need to get out of it as quick as possible. A reminder that we all need to be wary about our own relationships, and look at them with a realist lens (not a rosy me-coloured lens, or even a pessimistic lens; this song causes us to be honest if our relationships aren’t working as solid as we think they are, and then in turn we can decide whether to fight for them, or to just walk away, with much Biblical counsel and prayer, before the messiness of the relationship bleeds into other areas of life.

Alongside all of the band’s radio hits within the first half of their career thus far; probably the most underrated album the band has released is 2007’s A Place to Land. The album presents a few songs here and there that have stood out for me and I’m sure critics too, as this underrated album is a great reminder that more often than not, there’s always one album in any artists’ discography that seemingly flies under the radar as opposed to any other album. It just so happens that A Place to Land I feel, is Little Big Town’s- on the basis that in listening to the band this last week on Spotify on shuffle, not many of the 2007 songs came up for me to hear as I was listening to them. Regardless, A Place to Land as a whole was the first album they recorded on their now-label Capitol Records Nashville, and was the album to feature songs like ‘Lonely Enough’, ‘Fine Line’ and ‘I’m With the Band’ (songs that were cycled through on my spotify this past week), while also housing the cover of the 1980s hit, ‘Life in a Northern Town’. A Place to Land is in fact an album full of maturity and growth, full of poignancy and emotion, as Kimberly, Karen, Jimi and Phillip all present arguably an album that people may not necessarily check out initially (people would probably still check out later albums like Pain Killer, The Reason Why or Tornado if they were to check out a Little Big Town album in full), but will nevertheless be an album that people will enjoy and appreciate over time.

‘Fine Line’ is the first song on the album, and with an upbeat melody, complete with strong guitars, a message of disconnect is presented on the track, stating that often people go into relationships with widely different expectations of themselves and the other, and that it can be a fine line of compromise between the two in said relationship, or it can be a destructive relationship that was always doomed from the start. This song is a result of when unspoken things between a couple in a relationship bubble to the surface, and things that should’ve been said a long time before, erupt and what was now realised should’ve been long before, that sometimes relationships don’t work because the two people going into it are for the wrong reasons, and they want different things by the end of it all. ‘Fine Line’ attempts to discuss the frustrations of the people involved; and remind us all that to have a relationship that is healthy and long-lasting requires hard work, and actual discussions in a calm and humble way. ‘I’m With the Band’ is a song for all the people who are always on tour- either in a live-music touring capacity, or serving the country in either the military, navy or air force. Always constantly on the road, serving the people and looking out for someone else’s needs (and wants) before your own, this song goes out to all the people that seemingly sacrifice a personal life, for the sake of creating something they believe in (music) or serving a country through their efforts in the armed forces. A song that can hopefully bring together people that often feel isolated and alone because of what they do, the band continue to bring to us emotion and heart in a fair amount of the tracks on A Place to Land: ‘That’s Where I’ll Be’ shows us the lengths that someone would go to be in the presence of someone they love, forsaking their own personal journeys, and riding ‘…across the mesa to the Arizona plain and sail beyond the shores of cisco beach, I’d go down the Mississippi to the land of hurricanes or I’ll climb the hills of Tennessee, if that’s where you are, that’s where I’ll be…’; while ‘Evangeline’ is a call to everyone who are often silently suffering domestic violence in the form of verbal and mental abuse as opposed to the physical kind, as we’re reminded that often in these circumstances, if the abuse isn’t physical, the person trapped in it tries to rationalise it away and assert that they are still loved in that situation, when someone on the outside looking in sees a more bleaker full picture. ‘A Place to Land’, the title track of the album, presents someone who knows that they are tuned to faults and mess-ups, and longs and yearns for some place (or even someone) to land on, so that when things get awry (and they usually do), they can fall back on something that they know will cushion their fall, will comfort them if needed, and will give them a greater perspective than the one they are in; while the song ‘Good Lord Willing’ is a prayer of sorts, acknowledging the high life that is being lived by this persona, and realising that at times, all you can do when you’re knee deep in the rollercoaster of life, is to just pray to the Lord to make it out alive- out of whatever circumstance we find ourselves in. But for me it has been the song ‘Lonely Enough’ and the cover of the song ‘Life in a Northern Town’ that has stood out for me from this heavily underrated 2007 album, songs that remind me of the tension people often have with the divine on certain circumstances (‘Lonely Enough’), and the fact that a song from the 1980s can still have so much impact, heart and poignancy even today (‘Life in a Northern Town’).

If you were to know the history of Little Big Town, it doesn’t take a genius to know and understand that ‘Lonely Enough’ the song is a vulnerable, heartfelt, emotional and poignant song, a prayer to God and an outpouring of feelings in the aftermath of the death of Kimberly Schlapman’s first husband Steven Roads in 2005. The song itself is asking the question of ‘why’ to God, wondering that if He is all so powerful, then why can’t He bring back people from death like it was done in the older days, with Lazarus? I guess it’s a fair question for someone who is encountering grief, and maybe therein lies the point of this song- that often if we think we know the answer to people’s problems, we don’t necessarily have to shout it out to them at an instant. We can just sit with the people who are hurting, being with them while they make sense of the tragedy that has befallen upon them, and while this song ‘Lonely Enough’ is shrouded with an envelope of grief, the song itself is certainly what people are feeling and what they’re feeling about God during circumstances of unexpectedness- be it death, or even a loss of relationship, and people rightly so, ask the question of why…and sometimes there is no clear cut answer to this, and that’s ok. For such a song like this, we are reminded that people’s grief shouldn’t be minimised, and often phrases like ‘God has a plan’ and ‘chin up, keep trusting the Lord’ are often doing more harm in those situations than good. Because even though these two aforementioned statements are definitely true, it tells the person grieving that what they’re feeling isn’t valid, and states, in no uncertain terms, that if we have more faith in the Lord, then we won’t be feeling the grief that we do. When in fact the grief that we feel and the longing of wrong things to be made right (such as an untimely death of a family member), speaks more to the fact that we yearn and long for a creator, and the increasing faith that we have in light of our circumstances, rather than the less-of faith that people can often believe they have because of what people have said to them. ‘Lonely Enough’ is a challenge to all of us, to speak encouragement to people who are hurting, but always having a listening ear and a willing heart to walk alongside these people in their moments of uncertainty. ‘Life in a Northern Town’ is a great way to finish off A Place to Land, and while the original by the Dream Academy will always be the song that will stand the test of time, this version of it is a great cover version, and a reminder that sometimes songs just transcend decades and still have an impact years later- ‘Life in an Northern Town’ is evidence of this!

Little Big Town’s next four releases, Tornado, Pain Killer, The Breaker and Nightfall (Wanderlust was a massive deviation from the band’s signature country sound, and while a few songs here and there- ‘Work’, ‘One of Those Days’ and ‘C’mon’ are decent enough to listen to, the whole EP doesn’t have much replay value as the other four albums I just aforementioned!) are probably their most popular, and even though for me the album I enjoyed the most was A Place to Land, the next four full length albums from Little Big Town nevertheless deliver songs of hope, heart, loss, emotion, pain, and a sense of real life, as these 4 men and women come together to become, dare I say it, either the country ABBA or the country Fleetwood Mac (or even both) as the years continue to roll on and their albums continue to remind us of the necessity of Little Big Town’s music, not just in country, but in the realms of music, full stop. ‘Pontoon’, the first radio single from their 2012 album Tornado, is a fun-filled track about having a party on a pontoon boat, and a song that doesn’t take itself too seriously as we’re reminded through this track to always set aside times where we just relax and have a good time with friends and family (and is also a song that has made a resurgence- rightly or even wrongly, this year because of the pandemic and quarantines around the country for the better half of 2020); while ‘Night Owl’, is a reflective light-acoustic track full of harmonies and a message of wanting a person in a relationship to come back home soon after a day’s work, with the song presenting the person waiting, as being a night owl, staying up out of love and affection for this person working late into the night. A song that presents love in its truest and most genuine form (sacrifice of one’s sleep in favour of waiting for this person to return home); the band continue to present powerful themes on Tornado– ‘Sober’ speaks of how being in love and the feeling that comes from true love is far more potent and a better high than anyone can have from drugs and alcohol, and that, according to Kimberly Schlapman, ‘…it’s a great way of saying, first of all, we’re all in beautiful relationships in our lives, and we don’t want to live without that. It’s a wonderful way of saying, ‘I’m drunk on your love and I don’t ever want to be without it’…’; while ‘Your Side of the Bed’ is a brutal and honest look at what can happen if a lack of communication, and unmet expectations come between a couple in a long-term relationship, and how we see that more often than not, a relationship that heads down into the trajectory of feeling like strangers in their own home, doesn’t necessarily come to pass overnight, but takes the time and years of neglect for it to be that way. A reminder in such a sobering way to always cultivate the relationships we have, Little Big Town vocalist Karen Fairchild reminds us all that ‘…there are times in a relationship when you allow things to come between you, so much so that it feels like an incredibly long way back to each other. It’s a lonely place to be especially when you’re lying right next to someone you love…’

‘Tornado’ the song feels like a outlet for young women, and is a song that compares a woman (or it can be a guy) who feels frustrated with their relationships with people, that all they can do in a certain circumstance is to frustratingly let it out in a way that can be seen like a ‘tornado’, all for the sake of some recognition, respect, love and attention from the people they feel a disconnect to. Karen Fairchild states, that such a song as this is being latched on by girls- ‘…they like identifying with that song when they’re ticked off. They want to throw their man under a house! I see the girls tweet things like, ‘I’m a tornado!’ Or … ‘I’m gonna lift this house,’ and you just know there’s something not good going on in their house that day, and they need a theme song and something they can identify with and live vicariously through what we’re singing. That’s what it’s all about, how you’re feeling and looking for a moment to identify with in a song. And it’s fun …we don’t take it too seriously. But we all feel like a tornado sometimes…’ The band also presents to us the track ‘Self-Made’, a song about honouring all the people who built their lives from hard work and determination, rather than being handed everything on a silver spoon and platter and inheriting things from parents and family, while the song ‘On Fire Tonight’ is a party-song about having fun and is a rousing and upbeat-declaratory sequel to the track ‘Pontoon’, both songs on the 2012 album Tornado. ‘Can’t Go Back’ acknowledges the fact that more often than not, we can’t go back in time (or even to the place) where hurt has happened and try to fix it, what we really should be doing is to press forward, forgive ourselves and say sorry to others, and to make peace with the decisions made and realise that it is in making these decisions that we grow more as people; while ‘Front Porch Thing’, co-written with currently famous country superstar Chris Stapleton, presents a song about doing a ‘front porch thing’- which is sitting back and reflecting on life, carving out times for the family and friends to ‘chew the cud’, to muse about life and get into deep discussions about life and asking if people are ok in our inner circle of friends. It is a song that reminds us all to recharge every once in a while, and that we were never made to go and go and go for as long as we think we can.

Even though ‘Better Man’ from Little Big Town’s 2017 album The Breaker is the song that most people on the street would recognise as a song by the band (and quite possibly their most emotional and meaningful song of the last few years); it is the song ‘Girl Crush’ from their 2014 album Pain Killer that is actually the highest streamed song from the band on the digital streaming platform Spotify. It is the song that is also the highest-viewed on youtube, and is the song that a lot of people who are already fans of the band, have talked about for years since the song was unveiled as part of the 2014 project, that harkens in a sense of rock-n-roll into the country genre they’ve been so heavily into for years upon years. The song itself looks at situations that can often seem to real to be true (but they are)- the scenario painted in the song speaks of a girl (of which Karen Fairchild is singing the part of, taking on that persona) who is jealous of the now-girlfriend of her ex, and is seemingly having a ‘girl crush’ on this new girlfriend of this guy that ‘got away’ for whatever reason. The song of lament and wondering what this new person has that I don’t, is something we all feel, whether it is when we are in a relationship with someone, or even amongst friends too. Friend circles change sometimes, and often we can be left wondering why our friends now hang out with other people instead of us, and we could harbour jealously and a ‘crush’ on these people, wondering what it is we need to change about ourselves so that our friends (or even the person we were in relationship with) come back. A song that really looks at whether we should fight for our relationships or move on and not be in this ‘girl crush’ mode; the band also continue to also present themes of life, love, hope and comfort in these set of songs on arguably the most requested album (because of ‘Girl Crush’) from the band. ‘Save Your Sin’ is perhaps the most rock song they’ve attempted, as Kimberly Schlapman pleads and decrees for a little respect, as she sings as a persona to her potential lover to ‘save your sin for someone else, not for me’. The song itself is a reminder that we often know at a distance when someone is bad for us in our lives, and that a song like this can hopefully give us courage to boldly take a stand against the negative people who are in our lives currently, or are about to come into them. ‘Tumble and Fall’, one of the longest songs on the album, speaks of a central foundation that relationships ought to be built upon in order to survive life’s storms. Even if people stumble and fall, or take a tumble because of what is thrown at them; they can withstand whatever’s thrown at them because of the unconditional love they have for each other that allows them to keep going in the unlikeliest of circumstances. ‘Day Drinking’ is a fun song along similar lines to ‘Pontoon’, and speaks of a time in life where you just need to let your hair down and relax with friends and family, either on the beach or in your backyard with food and drink, and as the song suggests, doing a bit of ‘day drinking’ would also positively enrich the experience too; while the song ‘Pain Killer’ challenges us to look in our lives to see which things in life are dulling our pain, and whether its for the right reasons or not. There are times in our life where pain is needed for us to remember how far we’ve come in life, and to give us motivation to keep going, but other times, pain is often a deterrent from the life we live, and we need that something, or someone, take away from us the things we hold onto that are restricting us to live life to the very fullest.

‘Faster Gun’ looks at someone who all they do- by accident or on purpose, is to create havoc wherever they go, not caring about the hearts that are broken and are in tatters because of it all, and that ‘…somebody gonna come along and shoot you, like you shot me down…’, a reminder that more often than not, the people that go through life thinking that no retribution is coming their way and that they can feel invincible and do things that they don’t think will have consequences…well, either in this life or the next, there will be judgement or karma or whatever you want to call it. There will be wrongs being made right, and such a song as this gives us warning- to make all our actions matter and to not go through life with this short-term me-focused view. ‘Good People’ challenges us all into whether we have good discernment about others, and whether this understanding that ‘good people know good people’ is actually true- the song reminds us that we are who we hang out with, that we in fact, knowingly or not, turn into the company we keep; while it is the penultimate song on Pain Killer that really shines musically and creates a song that fuses together two different tempos and meshes together a bluesy-folksy song with an upbeat tempo track to remind us that fusing together two musical styles isn’t as complicated as we all think, if done right. The song? ‘Turn the Lights On’ is the ultimate ‘pick yourself up off your bootstraps’ song and is a real motivator if you’re feeling down and being pushed to the limit. As Karen Fairchild puts it, ‘…we were talking about when you’re chasing something that you want to do as an artist, and you get knocked down or you’re gonna get rejected, you have to decide what you’re gonna do at that moment. You’re either gonna pick yourself up and be a better artist, better person, or you’re just gonna lie down and take it and just go away. We see it happen all the time. So many talented people come to Nashville and some quit, and they might be the best singers and songwriters and they just give up, because they get knocked down a couple of times…’

The Breaker was unveiled to us all in 2017, and along with ‘Better Man’ (of which was discussed earlier on in this blog), Little Big Town present more of a joyous, care-free, happy look at the world, and deliver songs that dig deep into our souls and really ministers to us in such a time as this- the 2020 pandemic has reminded us all of how much we need uplifting music, and The Breaker has a lot of it! ‘Happy People’ is a 3 minute track of folksy acoustic goodness that remind us all of what happy people are, and what it means for us to be truly happy in our lives, as we learn to live not for ourselves and our selfish gain, but to rather serve the other person in their own needs and to find fulfilment in the giving of self to situations and circumstances where you’re edifying the other instead of tearing them down. This happy-go-lucky song about happiness reminds us to never let ourselves take happiness and all that it brings for granted, because as quickly as happiness comes, it can fleetingly go away as well. ‘When Someone Stops Loving You’ is a track full of honesty and heart, as we understand through its lyrics that often it can feel, when a relationship has ended, that your whole world is falling apart, when in reality- the world is still turning, and everything still carries along as it was, expect the relationship that you were once in. The song is a reminder, placing things in perspective in a way that challenges us to accept the fact that just because we think our world has ended, doesn’t mean that it actually has- we can still live another day, and press on and wake up the next morning to live the next day better than the last.

‘The Breaker’ the title track is a song sung from the perspective of someone who is doing to breaking, feeling remorseful after time has passed after a relationship has ended, and understands their own personal role in the feelings of the other person in the aftermath of a breakup, while ‘We Went to the Beach’ is full of nostalgia, and reminds us all listeners, of times in our own past, where fond memories are aplenty, whether it’s holidays we’ve taken as a family, or just places we’ve visited in the past that we draw upon now in this current time where we can’t travel like we used to. ‘Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old’ is a carefree approach to life, living life as it comes and having the mentality of just processing the joy, hope, love, loss and heartbreak of it all, encompassing all of life and knowing that when we live our lives fully- the good and the bad moments, that we can all be better for it; while songs like ‘Free’, ‘Beat Up Bible’ and ‘Lost in California’ presents an outlook on life that goes far beyond the material- ‘Free’ asserts the fact that memories of good times and bad, and the relationships we have with people over the years, are worth far more to a person than the physical things we buy and collect over the years, while ‘Beat Up Bible’ talks about the importance of…yep, you guessed it: the Bible, and the fact that in it, are often the most misinterpreted, but still the most profound, words you’ve ever to come across in life- for a beat up bible is one that is used a lot, read to the point where we’re pondering on truths and what it really means to have faith in not only ourselves but in someone bigger, better, more in control and much more all-together, than we can ever be. ‘Lost In California’, at face value, is about a couple who just want to get lost in each other in the state of California, but when we look at little deeper, this place of California is representative of the farthermost point of a country, a place where people long to go but can’t for whatever reason, a place that is somewhere off in the distance, too far to comprehend as we long to be with the other, in a place that is too ‘unknown’ to venture to right now. Such as song as this, hopefully gives us all courage in our own journeys individually and with people, to take daring steps into the unknown as we understand that it is in the risk-taking where we learn a lot more about ourselves and others than we may care to admit.

Nightfall was released to the world at the beginning in 2020, and while now it can seem like this album release was futile- because no one is touring because of COVID-19; the album nevertheless reminds us of times in our life where we need music to hang onto when real life seems a little too difficult to bear. Nightfall is an album full of these songs that we can cling to during times like these, and as band member Jimi Westbrook states, ‘…it wasn’t really planned. It was one of those things where we had written so much for this record and had so many great songs. We thought, ‘Well, let’s just go into the studio and just start working on some of these things that we feel so inspired by and just get them under our belt.’ Then we’re 12 songs in and we’re kind of looking at each other: ‘Hey, are we producing this record?’…Nightfall has a vibe, and it can be a lot of different things. It can be romantic, which is kind of the way I feel like it starts off on the record. It can be a reflective time. It can be a time of loneliness and sorrow. I think this gives you a chance to kind of run through the emotions that could represent…’ There’s songs on the album like ‘Over Drinking’, where the persona is over ‘over-drinking’- medicating with alcohol after the end of a messy breakup, understanding that drinking away your life isn’t going to heal you, but rather to just press on and to live each day fully, will remind you of what you can contribute to the world, even if your problems still feel as though they are insurmountable. ‘Wine, Beer & Whiskey’ portrays the jovial and the fun side of alcohol- the camaraderie of friends that comes along with the connection that alcohol brings with others, as the song portrays the lighter side of alcohol, as opposed to the darker side of alcohol depicted in ‘Over Drinking’. ‘Questions’ speaks of a time in someone’s life when they’re broken up with someone, and time has passed and the people involved have healed, but questions still remain about the time when they were together and that ‘…you’re kind of like, ‘Do you ever think about me when you hear this song?’ I think that’s a natural thing in a breakup that everybody’s experienced one time or the other…’; while ‘Problem Child’ is perhaps one of the most emotive and heartfelt songs I’ve heard from the band since ‘Better Man’- the song speaks about a younger generation who may feel like they’re left out on the outer, because of what they may experience due to social media, comparisons on the internet because of Instagram, and online bullying. The song is a sombre moment of reflection, but nevertheless a song of reflection as we’re reminded that we’re not the only one that can feel this way, and just because we believe we have a problem about ourselves, doesn’t mean that we really do. Young people normally blame themselves when they’re bullied, thinking there’s something wrong with them, that they deserve it somehow, but as Jimi Westbrook reminds us through a story-behind-the-song, young people are ‘…just facing a lot of things, so many more things than we did. It makes you think about social-media bullying and the way that there’s never escape from those types of situation now. I think there are a lot of people who feel like they are outsiders and they’re disenfranchised. I hope that I can convey to my son that, ‘Listen, we all feel this way sometimes. We all feel alone. We all feel like we’re on the outside sometimes. It’s okay, though; you’re not the only one.’…’ But it is the song ‘The Daughters’ that really hits home, even for me, who is a white male and not the initial demographic for this song at all. The song is really speaking about the unrealistic expectations we have for women and girls, even if it is unsaid. The song doesn’t hold back on all the things that people have expected girls and women to do and say, and become or not say- to stand up straight, to not be weak and not be strong, to wash the dishes and keep the house in order, to pose like a ‘trophy’ on a shelf, to dream to the family but to also hold back on the dreams of the self…all these things that men would dare not say they’re putting on the women, but they are. This song is are reminder for us all to honour the women in our lives, to challenge the status quo- are the things that we expect women to do and to be, can we as men shoulder some of the burden, or should we get rid of this burden entirely? ‘The Daughters’ is a challenging song about what was already done in the past, and to see if it looks healthy to continue to press towards, in the future. A song that has continued to shoot up to become one of my favourites of the band, ever; this song alone ought to be enough to check out Nightfall once, if anything. It is has been their 2020 album that has continued to remind us all of how talented this quartet really is, and how similar they are to ABBA, Point of Grace, Fleetwood Mac and Lady A they are, and that comparison, in and of itself, is a good, good thing indeed.

The band have managed to traverse the years with songs and albums that have spoken and ministered to people, even if they didn’t know these songs were instrumental in people’s lives as much as they have been- and in mine over this last week, songs like ‘Lonely Enough’, ‘The Daughters’, ‘Better Man’, ‘Happy People’, ‘Sober’, ‘Little White Church’, ‘Beat Up Bible’, ‘We Went To the Beach’ and ‘Problem Child’, have all delivered poignancy and heartfelt moments of reflection in my own life of late. Even the standalone single song ‘Summer Fever’ is catchy enough for me to dance along with the track, and become a guilty pleasure song of mine from the band- a perfect song to sing along to during summertime, with long drives on the freeway. The band also present to us a great and formidable cover of Elton John’s ‘Rocketman’, and boy was it a great cover indeed. A song that really epitomises Elton’s career, and really speaks volumes to the quality of the song years later, Little Big Town’s rendition of Elton’s classic is nothing short of remarkable, as we’re reminded that such an iconic song can still be brought to the 21st century, breathed new life into it by Little Big Town, then also a powerful and impactful band of the 2000s and 2010s.

For Little Big Town, even if they may not be as famous as people would like outside of the country genre, have still blossomed there, and reminded us that no matter where we’re placed in life, and the circumstances we find ourselves in, that we can be ok where we are, that our purposes are to live life well, regardless of whether we may have chosen the place we are currently in, or not. Little Big Town and their stickability as a group, is a great admiration to me- I guess I can only think of a few other bands that have stuck together as a group from their inception- U2, Switchfoot, Lady A, Coldplay and Delirious? are just some of the bands around that have kept their initial lineup the same throughout all of their tenure (Delirious?’s drummer Stew Smith left and was not present during the recordings of their 2008 album Kingdom of Comfort, but was still present in the band for their farewell shows thereafter); and for that in and of itself, is something that I’ve admired the band for. Little Big Town haven’t really done much aside from music, and maybe that’s ok- the music speaks for itself. A lot of the times, artists become activists and support this and that, and that’s ok; but sometimes it’s also ok to just do music and not be involved with any of the extra things as well. For when you know an artist is great, is when they don’t have to do any of the other extra things, because the music is so good and speaks for itself. Little Big Town is one such band- and with the band itself not having a defined lead vocal (and every one of the 4 members having their turn to shine as lead vocal in various songs over the years), it is a great reminder to lot let egos get too big in band situations. Little Big Town have reminded me why the country music genre is still so much relatable and necessary, and together with artists like Carrie Underwood, Martina McBride, Keith Urban, Rascal Flatts, Lady A, Faith Hill and Shania Twain; have shaped modern country music to what it is today. While I am not as connected to the country of now as opposed to the country of years ago, even a decade ago; the genre still is going strong, and if Little Big Town and the presence continues to be a driving force in country music both now and into the future, than that in and of itself is a very good thing, as we resect these women and men, who don’t seem to be slowing down any time soon, even though they are well into the realms of the 50+ age bracket, a time in anyone’s life where they can consider their life and their vocation. Little Big Town seem to be doing none of that, and if songs like ‘The Daughters’ and ‘Problem Child’ are any indication, then maybe, just maybe, their best albums can still be in front of them! Wouldn’t that be a good sight to see and anticipate?

Does Little Big Town and their music make the list for you all when you write your own ‘Best Influential Artists of All Time’ list? Is there any song, like ‘Better Man’, ‘Girl Crush’, ‘Lonely Enough’, ‘The Daughters’ or ‘Little White Church’, that has impacted you on your journey through life thus far? Let us know in the comments. Till next time!

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