Little Big Town has been in the game 21 years now and has succeeded at releasing distinct albums that are both unique from one another and from what is trending in country music at the time. Starting with its 2017 release, The Breaker, the group has taken on an ethereal, mystical aesthetic and sound. While The Breaker featured light, whimsical lyrics and dancing melodies, the group’s latest release, Nightfall, carries more weight. It continues with the dreamy, delicate sound, but dares to dig deeper into darker themes. It is a mature sequel that adds depth to an already sonically transformative album.
Just about every song on the 13-track album is slow, backed by lonely guitar picking or melancholy piano. The lyrics, filled with references to dreams, the moon, and starry skies, are enunciated and clear, giving the listener a front-row seat to the musical story as it develops. The songs on Nightfall follow no specific pattern—“Next To You” starts off softly and slowly, with instrumentals in the chorus and eruptive pianos and electric guitars in the bridge. It does not follow the pattern of your typical song at all, making it less likely to fade into the background.
On “Nightfall,” the album’s namesake, Little Big Town combines themes of light and dark, day and night, into one fascinating and complex piece. The song starts off with Karen Fairchild’s deep, solemn vocals and lines such as “Let the dark help us remember what we’re fighting for.” When the chorus breaks through with Kimberly Schlapman’s bright voice, the whole song picks up. With the words “You and I fall,” each voice falls in pitch, one after the other, creating a layered effect representing the lyric’s literal meaning.
While most of the group’s songs give equal focus to each member, some surprise solos give Little Big Town a new sound. “Forever and a Night” is spearheaded by Phillip Sweet, showcasing his powerful voice and especially beautiful harmonies with Fairchild. In the bridge, sparks fly as the group harmonizes, twisting melodies around in ways only Little Big Town can pull off. Schlapman takes on her own solos in “Throw Your Love Away,” a slightly more upbeat song that puts her unbelievably smooth voice front and center. The lyrics are clever but not overbearing, fading in and out along with Schlapman’s floating vocals.
One of the record’s glimpses back to Little Big Town’s older sound comes on “Over Drinking,” a witty song with “I should’ve seen that coming” hooks. While the wry lines might feel like a blast from the past, the song serves as a segue to the latter half of Nightfall—a tinge of empowerment and freedom is found in lyrics such as “If I’m out at a bar, and I’ve tied one on / I’m drunk ’cause I’m happy, not drunk ‘cause you’re gone.” A sense of independence and confidence is radiated from here on out, giving each song at the end of the record a special introspective weight.
“The Daughters,” which is nominated for Best Country Group Duo/Group Performance at the 2020 Grammy Awards, packs a powerful message about the double standards women face. With lyrics poignant enough to shine above the rest, this track carries the entire record. Lyrics such as “Girl, shoulders back and stand up straight / Girl, watch your mouth and watch your weight / Mind your manners, smile for the camera” hit too close to home for many. The piercing chorus changes slightly during the bridge, evolving into the powerful lines “I’ve heard of God the Son and God the Father / And damn, I love my son, I love my father / I’m just looking for a God for the daughters.” On the album’s cover, the group’s two women—Fairchild and Schlapman—are dressed in bright colors while Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook fade into the darkness of the night sky. This tiny artistic detail alone reflects the album’s unapologetically feminist theme.
While the group received some pushback for the song, “The Daughters” was largely praised by country fans as well as by those unfamiliar with the genre. Little Big Town is no stranger to incorporating themes and concepts that might be controversial for country music. The group’s vulnerable 2014 release “Girl Crush” received similar criticism from people who likely misunderstood the lyrics. In the end, “The Daughters,” the driving force behind Nightfall as a whole, is what other country artists want to release but are ultimately too afraid to. It’s an incredibly powerful message coming from a group brave enough to take a stand and make social commentary in 2020.
Featured Image by Capitol Records