American country music group Little Big Town have released their sixth studio album since their debut in 1998 titled Pain Killer on Nashville’s Capitol Records. Reuniting once again with producer Jay Joyce the four piece band made up of husband and wife Jimi Westbrook and Karen Fairchild along with Phillip Sweet and Kimberly Schlapman have been together for more than fifteen years and are best known for their captivating four-part vocal harmonies. Openly admitting to the struggles and frustrations faced in the studio this time around, Little Big Town have managed to pull it together to create an eclectic album that will undoubtedly satisfy both new and old country/rock listeners.
Day Drinking, Pain Killer’s debut single released earlier this year and accompanied by a playful, Spring Break-ish video clip, brings to mind long, hot Summer days, hanging out with friends and generally having a great time. Heavy marching drums, infectious whistling lines and a catchy, syncopated chorus combine to create a strong single for the record. Coupled with the album’s opening track Quit Breaking Up With Me, we quickly get a sense of the feel and direction the album is taking.
Tumble and Fall is the quartet’s first vocal switch which sees the lead melodic line carried by the group’s male singers. It strikes a nice balance between country and pop music and best showcases their vocal talent in the uplifting chorus lines that are beautifully awash with backing vocal harmonies and slight counter melodies. The electric organ solo taking the song out adds a nice texture and the interesting guitar riffs give us a taste of what’s to come throughout the album.
Once we hit title track Pain Killer, it becomes evident that Little Big Town are slightly more than just a country band. Delving into new territory the song has a distinctly Caribbean air about it that works well the basic, but fun, rhythmical lyrics such as “a little dose of you goes a long, long way”. Turn The Lights On too, is an interesting piece that draws listeners in with a progressive one and half minute guitar instrumental that develops into a full-blown rock anthem.
The quartet’s softer side is demonstrated in tracks like Girl Crush and Live Forever where the Grammy winning vocalists really shine in their four-part harmonies. These songs hark back to the story telling roots of country music with sweet, simple arrangements, emotional lyrics, haunting guitar riffs and ethereal textures all adding to the magical effect and allowing the moments of acappella singing to stand out more.
Little Big Town have done a great job in exploring and expanding the limitations of country music. All thirteen tracks have something unique to offer listeners and the band cleverly exploits their strongest assets in their interesting vocal harmonies. Their ability to easily switch between lead singers sets them apart from other bands in any genre but their lyrical content sometimes feels a little hollow and forced. They have more to offer when they work together on softer, more melodic tunes then they do in the typically louder country, rock singles that one would probably hear at a line dancing competition. At the end of the day though, Pain Killer is an interesting listen for both pro and anti country music fans.