Little Big Town are the definitive Nashville group to anyone outside of the ‘Country music’ bubble. Kimberley, Philip, Karen and Jimi are southern through and through, and have sang with incredible harmonies at just about every award show in existence at some point over the last decade. Kimberley has even managed to create a cookbook and cookware line, these are southern people.
Take a listen to Nashville radio though and they end up as a stark outlier. They’ve had a massive hit on radio every few years, ‘Girl Crush’, ‘Better Man’ and ‘Pontoon’, but outside of that they’ve taken massive risks for the genre, writing and releasing an entire album with Pharrel Williams probably being the most out there moment for them. It mean for every country cliché they embody, and on Nightfall they cover just about every one, they also make everything sound much more accessible to people outside of the genre.
Fleetwood Mac is the most obvious link, opener ‘Next To You’ being the best example of the group’s outstanding harmonies as it builds and builds to an almighty climax. There’s a dreamy quality to songs like this, no surprise given that the band produced the record alongside Ian Fitchuk and Daniel Tashiun who helped to make Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour the spectacular album it was. It makes ‘River of Stars’ and the title track twinkle like the night sky.
‘Forever and a Night’ is the album’s biggest moment vocally, with Philip Sweet managing to capture just the right side of over indulgent with a powerful performance. One thing I’d like to have heard on Nightfall is more from Philip and Kimberley, who sing lead on just 2 of the songs here. Little Big Town clearly sound their best when singing together as one unit, but over these 13 tracks it’s clear that Karen Fairchild remains the star.
She delivers on album stand-out ‘The Daughters’ especially, ‘Girl, don’t be weak but don’t be strong/Say what you want, just as long/As you nod your head with your lipstick on’, it’s a simple lyric but heartbreaking because of it. ‘Sugarcoat’ takes things to even bigger heights, capturing everything I love about the group’s songwriting and performance in one track. ‘Questions’ is a bit less tightly crafted, while closer ‘Trouble With Forever’ ends up being kind of forgettable after some bigger moments.
The biggest issue Nightfall has though are the two tracks that sit right in the centre. ‘Over Drinking and ‘Wine, Beer, Whiskey’ are perfectly fun and well produced records. The former tying a decent metaphor into a catchy hook for sure, but here they stick out like it’s a different album. Everything flits between sombre acoustic sounds and the twinkly pop of the rest and these big drinking songs are a strange left turn.
Little Big Town’s previous albums have always felt like a pretty diverse mix of country sounds, but Nightfall really had the potential to be a singular full length moment for the group. Sadly it feels like the need for a ‘fun’ moment outweighed this possibility, which leaves us with a perfectly enjoyable album that falls short of being the group’s finest moment.
Words by Sam Atkins