Little Big Town – A Place To Land (Equity Records 2007)
It was very easy to dismiss Little Big Town as Sony Nashville’s attempt at creating a boy/girl group like some pop labels had done. It seemed to be a cash grab by the label and upon hearing the overproduced self-titled effort (From 2002), along with looking at the glossy glamour shots in the liner notes, I had to agree with that sentiment and so did country radio and the fans. Promoted to the T of more than a million dollars, the band was a colossal bust. Fast foward a couple years to 2005 and the quartet of Jimi Westbrook, Philip Sweet, Karen Fairchild and Kimberly Roads Schlapman had decided to write and record their own album with noted producer Wayne Kirkpatrick before shopping it to labels. The band joined forces with new independent label Equity Records. Their new organic sound was a breath of fresh air and radio fell in love with their singles and album “The Road To Here.” A million plus albums sold later and Little Big Town is back with their third album, “A Place To Land.”
Rather than fight the critics assertion that Little Big Town is a modern spin on Fleetwood Mac, the band seemingly has decided to embrace it. This much is evident from the 70’s style album cover art. Once the first song and future single “Fine Line” gets passed the banjo-laced intro and into the meat of the song, The Fleetwood Mac comparison is more than apt. With “800 pound gorilla” out of the way lets get to the hear of the matter, Little Big Town’s songs.
They are, as a whole, consistently good. Lead single “I’m With The Band,” is a continuation of the last record’s singles while showcasing this record’s more harmonic, roots-rock orientation. It’s the perfect bridge. Fans of the Eagles or the entire 1970’s California country rock scene will certainly appreciate this record. “That’s Where I’ll Be” sounds as if it is from an old Crosby Stills Nash & Young album or perhaps even from the new Eagles record. But while it sounds like that, make no mistake, Little Big Town aren’t imitators. The band has crafted their harmony driven sound with deep country roots and have found the perfect producer to complement them. Kirkpatrick once again produces the record with the quartet (while co-writing and playing lead guitars too). He understands them better than that first producer did and fully supports those voices with understated, organic melodies that are never made to imitate. “Vapor” is a song in which the band invokes Christian imagery to drive home a message of living life to it’s fullest. And since Roads’ previous husband passed away, the band certainly can attest to the song’s claim (She’s since re-married).
The band is able to showcase a slightly bluesier side when they sing songs like “Novocaine” and a song that sounds like it’s ready to be Dwight Schrute’s anthem; “Firebird Fly.” Written by Jon Randall, “Firebird” is lyrically silly but it some how works while another Randall co-write, “Lonely Enough” is one of those reflective songs that sounds like pure ear candy with the stellar acoustic arrangements and harmonies showcasing a truly traditional country song for what it is. Wonderful. The quartet makes a statement with “Fury.” Funky and full of interesting melodic moments, the song certainly has the ability to get the album mainstream press notice. It’s a song that would work on classic rock and absolutely must kill live. It’s a great way to end an album full of great performances and songs.
Little Big Town may have been a major label’s ‘wet dream’ to bring pop to country but when left to their own devices (and making more money because of it) the band shows that there was room for a truly unique band that blends traditional country and rock music into a cohesive package worth listening to over and over again.