released August 24th, 2010

from the album - Little White Church

from all music

The country vocal quartet Little Big Town began with Kimberly Roads and Karen Fairchild, two Georgia natives who began singing together in college. Arkansan Jimi Westbrook, a friend of Fairchild's husband, joined them to make a trio, and the group was completed by the addition of Phil Sweet in 1998. From the outset, Little Big Town devoted their sound to harmony and multiple lead vocals, a combination that made the band a hard sell at first. They finally landed a deal at Mercury Records, but it fell through due to disagreements about musical direction. In the wake of the success of the Dixie Chicks, however, Little Big Town suddenly seemed a more likely commercial proposition, and they were taken up by the Dixie Chicks' label, Monument Records, in 2000.

Recording sessions lasted longer than usual for a country release, but Monument finally issued the band's debut single, "Don't Waste My Time," in the winter of 2002. The song was on its way up the charts when its accompanying album, Little Big Town, arrived in May. Although the debut produced several minor hits, Little Big Town didn't become a superstar act until 2005, when The Road to Here yielded four Top 20 singles (including the ballad "Bring It on Home") and earned the group its first platinum record. A Place to Land followed in 2007 and netted three singles, none of which made it into the Top 30, but the band's profile continued to grow due to incessant touring and supporting acts from Sugarland to Carrie Underwood. Fairchild also guested with John Mellencamp on his album Life Death Love and Freedom. In May of 2010 "Little White Church" appeared as a single that peaked at number 14 on the Billboard country chart; in August of that year Little Big Town's fourth studio album, The Reason Why, was released by Capitol.

album review

It's anybody's guess why Little Big Town's three fine singles from 2007's excellent A Place to Land failed to crack the Top 30, or why the album didn't build upon the platinum success of its predecessor, The Road to Here. That said, the bluesy roil in "Little White Church," the pre-release single from The Reason Why, LBT's fourth studio album, proves that failure was a fluke. The trademark four-part harmony that separate them from the rest of the contemporary country pack isn't the only thing: their group songwriting — with producer and guitarist Wayne Kirkpatrick as a fifth member — is classy, sophisticated, and doesn't rely on genre clichés. While the '70s-period Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles were clear inspirations and influences earlier, here they've been integrated into a sound that is LBT's own. The guitars are a little fiercer, the harmonies looser, and therefore more emotionally expressive; they reflect the growth in their lyrics. And even as Karen Fairchild is asserting herself as a de facto frontwoman, the contributions made by Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook, Phillip Sweet and Kirkpatrick create an inseparable whole. The group wrote or co-wrote nine of the set's 12 songs, including the single, and it's their songs that shine brightest, beginning with the title-track opener. With a melody that resembles a 1960s pop song, Fairchild sings solo to a single-string electric guitar riff playing changes; the acoustic guitars fold underneath her voice and then the harmonies kick in to take the entire thing to the stratosphere. The intro harmonies on "Why, Oh Why" echo both the Louvin Brothers and Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, before a nasty electric-guitar vamp, a punched-up kick drum, snare and distorted slide guitar turn this into prime, funky country-rock. "All the Way Down," introduced by a scratchy vinyl record and harmonies singing the refrain as if from the distant past backed only by a banjo, promptly shifts gears into a prime modern-country song with soaring vocals, mandolins, and an infectious hook. "Lean into It" is the stripped-down ballad that closes the album. Gentle guitars and a lonely pedal adorn Sweet's vocal, which is girded by the voices of his bandmates to provide solace during the dark hours we all endure. The Reason Why is mature, exquisitely crafted, and radio friendly; it ups the ante for contemporary country in songwriting, performance, and production (the latter by stripping away excess). It's as near to a perfectly balanced recording as one will find in the genre.

Track Listing

1 The Reason Why Fairchild, Kirkpatrick ... 4:52
2 Runaway Train Westbrook 3:45
3 Kiss Goodbye Lindsey, McEwan, Sampson 4:02
4 Shut Up Train Laird, Lindsey, Tompkins 3:48
5 Why, Oh Why Fairchild, Schlapman ... 3:44
6 Little White Church Fairchild, Kirkpatrick ... 3:06
7 You Can't Have Everything Fairchild, Kirkpatrick ... 3:29
8 All the Way Down Fairchild, Kirkpatrick ... 3:08
9 All Over Again Fairchild, Kirkpatrick ... 4:08
10 Rain On a Tin Roof Stapleton, Willmon 4:25
11 Life Rolls On Fairchild, Kirkpatrick ... 3:10
12 Lean Into It Fairchild, Kirkpatrick ... 4:19