Capitol Records Nashville
Release Date: January 17th 2020
Reviewed by: Jonathan Andre
- Next to You
- Forever and a Night
- Throw Your Love Away
- Over Drinking
- Wine, Beer & Whiskey
- The Daughters
- River of Stars
- Sugar Coat
- Problem Child
- Trouble With Forever
‘…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, 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…’ Little Big Town have been in and around the business for close to 20 years. They’ve been so popular in and amidst the industry, that I wrote a blog about them a week or so ago about their influence and impact upon modern music history, and how songs like ‘Girl Crush’, ‘Better Man’, ‘Little White Church’, ‘Boondocks’ and ‘Tornado’, to name a few, are just some of the many tracks that have stood out not just for fans of country music, but have stood out across all musical genres of the last few years. Now enter in 2020, and on January 17th, Little Big Town unveiled their 9th studio album, Nightfall, 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…’
‘Over Drinking’ is the first official single from the album, and while the song itself isn’t as upbeat as other first-single songs in albums past (‘Happy People’ from The Breaker, ‘Day Drinking’ from Pain Killer, ‘Pontoon’ from Tornado), the message of this 2020 song is still as emotive and poignant as ever, as the persona in the song 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’ is the single after ‘Over Drinking’, and 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’. ‘The Daughters’, a standalone song unveiled in 2019 (and also present here on Nightfall) would have to be the most poignant song on Nightfall, with the song really hitting 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.
Throughout the rest of the album, we see various tracks present themes of hope, love, loss and introspection, as this new album, though not as jovial and ‘happy’ as other albums previously, has nevertheless still struck a chord with me and has become an album of realisation of being in fellowship and community with someone, and is a perfect companion to listen to on the couch or when people come to your home for dinner. ‘Questions’, one of the lesser known songs on the album, 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.’…’ ‘Sugar Coat’ dials up the poignancy, emotion and heart all the way up to 11 as we see a song that depicts a sugar coat as something that is attractive and acceptable, but it is only on the surface and more often than not, only skin-deep. The persona in the song is a lady who wants to keep up appearances, wanting to have a home sweet home, but all the while suffering silently in a crumbling marriage. A song like this is a reminder that it is never ok to keep up appearances at the expense of your sanity, and that discussion between people in a failing marriage ought to happen sooner and sooner, so that marriage breakdown may not occur and the union between the two can be saved if that is what both spouses want.
‘Next to You’ is the first song on the album, and while the song itself starts off with the haunting lyrics ‘babe, I don’t wanna talk right now’, we see throughout the song, of a persona yearning and longing for intimacy- both in a physical sense and an emotional way too, as a way of maintaining a relationship that is in all senses of the word, tough and difficult. The song itself, musically and lyrically, sets the stage for the rest of the album to flow from there, as singer Phillip Sweet imparts that ‘…it really starts where we were at, painting the picture where we wanted to start. We loved the way it felt, what it said, how it sounded and what it built. It was so dynamic. And that really started the whole process…’ ‘Nightfall’ is the title track on the album, and here it presents a track that reminds us of the beauty and the simplicity of a relationship, and that sometimes all that is needed to ignite a spark is just a slow dance on the dance floor, to allow two people to connect in such a way that maybe they haven’t before. ‘Nightfall’ allows us all to look out at the wonder of the sky and creation, and to ponder and think, of how the sky in all its wonder can evoke such feelings of togetherness and connection between couples who dance under the skies. ‘Forever and a Night’ is a reassurance song, about a persona telling someone else who is full of distrust and worry, that they ought not need to worry, that they can rely on this persona, that they will do whatever it takes to alleviate the worry and the distrust that this someone has; while ‘I Can’t Throw Your Love Away’ reminds us all that even at the end of a relationship, we can part with all the tangible things that remind us of this person, but we still can’t pretend to say that what we had with this person was never real, that the love that we may have had could still be used to draw upon for hope, strength and perseverance, reminding us all that though we can’t throw their love out and pretend it was nothing, we surely cannot give it back to them either- because they may’ve moved on to someone else.
‘River of Stars’ is a devotion song, as both Karen Fairchild and Jimi Westbrook (who are married in real life) deliver this heartfelt duet about doing whatever it takes to get to the other person and to have a connection that is real, honest, true and edifying, and that whatever we do to allow real and true connection to take place, be it painting a ‘river of stars’, or just listening to them when they have their difficulties and problems, is something that we ought to quickly say yes and jump at the chance, if the love that is felt is real, and true. The album then ends with the songs ‘Bluebird’ and ‘Trouble With Forever’, with the former being a reminder song, where we look at creation itself and that becomes a living reminder everyday of the love that not only people close to us have for us (family and friends) but also the love that God our Father has for each and every one of His creation, and that a simple act of saying thanks and being grateful for the people in our lives, and to admire the bluebird in all its wonder, is something we ought to do, even on a daily basis. For a heart of attitude of gratitude encourages us to have a full and joyful heart, our worries never overwhelming us as we help other people in need who aren’t as grateful or as thankful about their lives as maybe we are. ‘Trouble With Forever’ ends the album on a realistic note, and reminds us all that often a life together with someone you love is never ice-cream and rainbows- yes it can be for the start, but real life and perseverance happens when difficult times come along, and that is when you truly know if you love the person or not. ‘Trouble With Forever’ attempts to shatter the too-perfect illusion of married life, and even if some marriages fail, it is better to have that notion than to live in a too-idealistic fantasy.
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’, ‘Better Man’, ‘Happy People’, ‘Sober’, ‘Little White Church’, ‘Beat Up Bible’, ‘We Went To the Beach’, and even more recently ‘The Daughters’, ‘Problem Child’, ‘Next To You’ and ‘Nightfall’, have all delivered poignancy and heartfelt moments of reflection in my own life of late. 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. The band 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 respect 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? Well done Karen, Kimberly, Phillip and Jimi for this new album Nightfall, an album of richness and maturity, and together with Lady A’s Ocean, solidifies inspirational country-pop over the last year or so.
3 songs to listen to: The Daughters, Problem Child, Next to You
RIYL: Point of Grace, ABBA, Fleetwood Mac, Lady A