Album Review – Little Big Town’s ‘The Breaker’

little-big-town-the-breaker

Let’s be honest: I wasn’t exactly a fan of Little Big Town’s last album Pain Killer. I went back and re-read it. I was actually quite brutal with my remarks. Man, did I go in on the 80s rock comparisons. In my defense though these comparisons weren’t off and I can honestly say I only remember two songs from that album, “Day Drinking” and “Girl Crush.” The latter of course went on to become Little Big Town’s biggest hit yet and racked up tons of awards. So at least the best song went on to earn the most praise. Coming into this veteran group’s new album The Breaker, I was kind of cautiously optimistic based off the Taylor Swift-penned lead single “Better Man.” But in the back of my mind I still remembered the previous album being a disappointment. After all Jay Joyce returns as producer, who was a big part of why the last album was underwhelming and forgettable. Well after listening to The Breaker, it’s definitely a step up and into the right direction for this group.

The opening song “Happy People” really establishes the overall tone and vibe of this album. It’s a very easy-going, light, roots-y type sound that permeates throughout this song and album. The song is about doing whatever floats your boat and how happy people do a lot more than unhappy people in this life. It takes a few listens, but the lyrics kind of subtly impress. It’s no surprise considering two great songwriters in Lori McKenna and Hailey Whitters wrote it. One of the more upbeat tracks on this album is “Night On Our Side.” It’s catchy, but the song itself really doesn’t have much to say and is greatly aided by the vibrant instrumentation. Moody and mellow would best describe “Lost In California.” This might be the most different song I’ve heard from Little Big Town, as this song is very much driven by tone. The song is a love ballad and features some illustrative songwriting that really paints a picture in your head, a credit to the famous troika of Hillary Lindsey, Liz Rose and McKenna. Then we have the production, which perfectly compliments it with it’s dreamy, almost hazy like feel. It might be Jay Joyce’s best work he’s ever done.

This is before we get to what I would deem the best track on the album, “Free.” I knew right away that McKenna helped write this, as it just has the markings of her best work. The song is instantly feel good, along the same lines of “Humble and Kind.” It’s about how the things we want most in life are free and some of our best qualities are free too (how we get our sense of humor from a parent, our eye color from a relative). The harmonies are also perfectly timed. This is one of Little Big Town’s best songs it’s ever released and deserves to be a single. “Drivin’ Around” is a breezy, summer song you play with the windows down as you well drive around. I enjoy how the harmonies drives this song, but I wish the production were toned back a bit to let the song be more breezy and less overbearing at times (“Rollin'” is along the same lines). Nostalgia will determine how much you love “We Went To The Beach.” Most of the time nostalgia songs usually don’t work for me, but this one does because well I can relate to the first part of the song. If you can connect with a part of the song, it’s enjoyable. If not, it’s probably just okay. I also have to say Phillip Sweet was a good choice for lead vocals here, as his voice suites the overall mood of the song.

Kimberly Schlapman takes the lead on “Beat Up Bible.” It’s about the meaning of a Bible that’s been passed down through a family. The memories it holds and the lessons learned are what make it so special, even though it’s nearly fallen apart. Usually these types of songs devolve into cliché territory quickly, but this one has heart and comes across sincerely. Schlapman is a great choice for lead vocals, as her sweeter, more restrained voice suits it. Little Big Town do a really job tackling heartbreak on “When Someone Stops Loving You.” The song explores the feelings you go through after a breakup: having to trudge through the normal routine, forced to face life without that person and a little part still hoping they come crawling back. It’s well written and Jimi Westbrook really shines on lead vocals. The album’s title track closes the album out. With Sweet on lead vocals, the song is about a man who thought he would be the man of his woman’s dreams. But he ends up turning out to be the one to break her heart in the end. I enjoy the concept of this song, but I think it would have been even better if it were a duet between the man and woman, explaining each side. It would have really added some depth, but as is it’s a decent song.

Little Big Town delivers a pretty solid album in The Breaker. It’s a nice rebound from the group and mostly a return to where this group shines: more organic, restrained, harmony driven songs. Everything on this album is a step up, most notably the songwriting. Five co-writes from Lori McKenna, along with contributions from the likes of Natalie Hemby, Liz Rose and Hailey Whitters is likely to help an album in the songwriting department. Overall I like the sonic direction this album takes and the themes explored, but I felt like if it could have been taken further this could have been a great album. It felt like some potential was left on the table, but hopefully the group stays on its current path and takes these steps on the next album. Little Big Town should be proud though of their effort on The Breaker, as I think this will be one of the best albums from mainstream country in 2017.

Grade: 7/10

 

Recommend? – Yes

Album Highlights: Free, Lost In California, When Someone Stops Loving You, Happy People, Beat Up Bible, Better Man

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old; Night On Our Side


Review – Little Big Town’s “Better Man”

little-big-town-better-man

When it comes to Little Big Town, I’ve always had mixed feelings about them. Earlier songs from the group such as “Little White Church” and “Boondocks” impressed me, but then they follow it up with songs that annoy me like “Pontoon.” Their last album’s lead single “Day Drinking” was probably one of the worst singles they’ve put out, as I harshly criticized it in my review. But then they followed this up with the biggest hit of their career and one of the most talked about country singles of 2015, “Girl Crush.” After being wrongly perceived as a song about a lesbian relationship and getting rebuked initially by country radio, it went on to be a smash hit and racked up numerous awards. With the huge success of this single, it basically defined the Pain Killer era as good, despite the rest of the album being generic 80s rock and featuring producer Jay Joyce at his worst. So now after a bizarre side project with pop artist Pharrell Williams earlier in 2016, Little Big Town returns with a new lead single for their next album, titled “Better Man.”

I have to say coming in I didn’t have high expectations for this song and I only had slight hope they would return to their earlier sound. Fortunately they actually do this because “Better Man” is much closer to their earlier work than their latest music and I couldn’t be happier about this development. Right away we hear a piano and some percussion to open the song and Karen Fairchild’s smokey vocals, who sings lead on the single. The song is about a heartbroken woman who misses the man she used to be in love with, hoping he could be a better man again. She knows it was for the best they split, but she can’t let go of the good memories they had and she’s heartbroken over the loss of something so close to her heart. It’s really solid songwriting with some actual depth and story behind the heartbreak. The harmonizing by the group in the chorus gives the song a good punch and makes it memorable for the listener. The production could have been dialed back a bit and can be a little too loud at times for some listeners, but the blending of pop sounds and country sounds really works well.

I wouldn’t say this is the best single of Little Big Town’s career, but “Better Man” is definitely near the top for them. They did with this song what I’ve been saying for a while: get back to a more organic sound and put focus back on the harmonies. This song accomplishes both and they were able to even give it enough polish that radio should give it some kind of chance. The songwriting is notably improved and shouldn’t be overlooked either. I hope this is an indication of what’s come on their new album because this is the Little Big Town country music needs.

Grade: 7/10

Recommend? – Yes


Written by Taylor Swift

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [February 29]

Keith Urban Break On Me

Each week I take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +30 and the lowest possible score being a -30. How do I determine if a song is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Songs rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Songs rated a 5 or 6 receive a 0. Songs rated 4 or lower receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Keith Urban – “Break On Me” -1 (Up 5)
  2. Carrie Underwood – “Heartbeat” (Up 1)
  3. Randy Houser – “We Went” -1 (Up 2)
  4. Zac Brown Band – “Beautiful Drug” -1 (Up 3)
  5. Granger Smith – “Backroad Song” -1 (Down 3)
  6. Luke Bryan & Karen Fairchild – “Home Alone Tonight” -1 (Down 2)
  7. Brett Eldredge – “Drunk on Your Love” -1 (Up 2)
  8. Cole Swindell – “You Should Be Here” -1 (Up 2)
  9. Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man” -1 (Down 1)
  10. Kelsea Ballerini – “Dibs” -1 (Down 9)
  11. Chase Bryant – “Little Bit of You” -1 (Up 1)
  12. Florida Georgia Line – “Confession” (Down 1)
  13. Rascal Flatts – “I Like The Sound of That” -1 
  14. Chris Stapleton – “Nobody To Blame” +1 
  15. Old Dominion – “Snapback” -1 
  16. Maren Morris – “My Church” +1
  17. Dustin Lynch – “Mind Reader” -1 
  18. Lee Brice – “That Don’t Sound Like You” -1 
  19. Chris Young & Cassadee Pope – “Think of You” 
  20. Dierks Bentley – “Somewhere On A Beach” -1
  21. Michael Ray – “Real Men Love Jesus” -1 
  22. Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind” +1
  23. Brantley Gilbert – “Stone Cold Sober” -1 
  24. Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots” +1
  25. Maddie & Tae – “Shut Up and Fish” +1 (Up 1) [Best Song]
  26. Thomas Rhett – “T-Shirt” -1 (Up 2)
  27. Chris Lane – “Fix” -1 (Down 2) [Worst Song]
  28. David Nail – “Night’s On Fire” -1 (Up 1)
  29. Tyler Farr – “Better in Boots” -1 (Down 2)
  30. Frankie Ballard – “It All Started With a Beer” +1

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -15

The pulse stayed the same this week. 

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • None

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • None

Song I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week:

  • Randy Houser – “We Went”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Keith Urban – “Break On Me” – Up 5 from #6 to #1
  • Zac Brown Band – “Beautiful Drug” – Up 3 from #7 to #4
  • Multiple songs moved up two spots on the chart

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Kelsea Ballerini – “Dibs” – Down 9 from #1 to #10
  • Granger Smith – “Backroad Song” – Down 3 from #2 to #5
  • Luke Bryan & Karen Fairchild – “Home Alone Tonight” – Down 2 from #4 to #6
  • Tyler Farr – “Better In Boots” – Down 2 from #27 to #29

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man”
  • Brantley Gilbert – “Stone Cold Sober”
  • Tyler Farr – “Better in Boots”
  • Kelsea Ballerini – “Dibs”
  • Luke Bryan & Karen Fairchild – “Home Alone Tonight”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Chris Lane – “Fix”

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Eric Church – “Record Year”
  • Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink”
  • Dan + Shay – “From The Ground Up”
  • William Michael Morgan – “I Met A Girl”

 

As always be sure to weigh in on this week’s chart in the comments below.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [February 22]

Each week I take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +30 and the lowest possible score being a -30. How do I determine if a song is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Songs rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Songs rated a 5 or 6 receive a 0. Songs rated 4 or lower receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Kelsea Ballerini – “Dibs” -1 (Up 2)
  2. Granger Smith – “Backroad Song” -1 (Down 1)
  3. Carrie Underwood – “Heartbeat” (Up 1)
  4. Luke Bryan & Karen Fairchild – “Home Alone Tonight” -1 (Down 2)
  5. Randy Houser – “We Went” -1 (Up 2)
  6. Keith Urban – “Break On Me” -1 (Down 1)
  7. Zac Brown Band – “Beautiful Drug” -1 (Up 1)
  8. Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man” -1 (Down 2)
  9. Brett Eldredge – “Drunk on Your Love” -1 (Up 3)
  10. Cole Swindell – “You Should Be Here” -1 
  11. Florida Georgia Line – “Confession” 
  12. Chase Bryant – “Little Bit of You” -1 (Up 1)
  13. Rascal Flatts – “I Like The Sound of That” -1 (Up 1)
  14. Chris Stapleton – “Nobody To Blame” +1 (Up 1)
  15. Old Dominion – “Snapback” -1 (Up 1)
  16. Maren Morris – “My Church” +1 (Up 1)
  17. Dustin Lynch – “Mind Reader” -1 (Up 2)
  18. Lee Brice – “That Don’t Sound Like You” -1 
  19. Chris Young & Cassadee Pope – “Think of You” (Up 2)
  20. Dierks Bentley – “Somewhere On A Beach” -1 (Up 2)
  21. Michael Ray – “Real Men Love Jesus” -1 (Down 1)
  22. Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind” +1 (Up 2)
  23. Brantley Gilbert – “Stone Cold Sober” -1 
  24. Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots” +1 (Up 2)
  25. Chris Lane – “Fix” -1 [Worst Song]
  26. Maddie & Tae – “Shut Up and Fish” +1 (Up 1) [Best Song]
  27. Tyler Farr – “Better in Boots” -1 (Up 1)
  28. Thomas Rhett – “T-Shirt” -1 (New to Top 30)
  29. David Nail – “Night’s On Fire” -1
  30. Frankie Ballard – “It All Started With a Beer” +1

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -15

The pulse stayed the same this week. 

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Sam Hunt – “Break Up in a Small Town” (Finally Country Perspective’s 2015 Worst Song of the Year is gone!)

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Thomas Rhett – “T-Shirt”

Song I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week:

  • Carrie Underwood – “Heartbeat”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Thomas Rhett – “T-Shirt” – Up 5 from #33 to #28
  • Brett Eldredge – “Drunk on Your Love” – Up 3 from #12 to #9
  • Multiple songs moved up two spots on the chart

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Sam Hunt – “Break Up In A Small Town” – Out of the Top 30
  • Luke Bryan & Karen Fairchild – “Home Alone Tonight” – Down 2 from #2 to #4
  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man” – Down 2 from #6 to #8

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man”
  • Brantley Gilbert – “Stone Cold Sober”
  • Tyler Farr – “Better in Boots”

On The Hot Seat:

  • David Nail – “Night’s On Fire”
  • Rascal Flatts – “I Like The Sound of That” (With Dan + Shay entering the top 30, we can’t have two Rascal Flatts in the top 30 at the same time…. I’m kidding. Maybe)

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink”
  • Dan + Shay – “From The Ground Up”
  • Jennifer Nettles – “Unlove You”
  • Eric Church – “Record Year”

 

As always be sure to weigh in on this week’s chart in the comments below.

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [February 16]

Granger Smith Backroad Song

Each week I take a look the Billboard Country Airplay chart and grade the top 30 songs. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive either a +1, -1 or a 0. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the current top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +30 and the lowest possible score being a -30. How do I determine if a song is rated a +1, -1 or 0? The rating it received on the site or myself will determine this. If it hasn’t been rated yet, then I will make the call. Songs rated between 7 and 10 receive a +1. Songs rated a 5 or 6 receive a 0. Songs rated 4 or lower receive a -1.

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the current state of mainstream country music and determine if it’s improving or getting worse. Let’s take a look at this week’s top thirty…

  1. Granger Smith – “Backroad Song” -1 (Up 1)
  2. Luke Bryan & Karen Fairchild – “Home Alone Tonight” -1 (Down 1)
  3. Kelsea Ballerini – “Dibs” -1 (Up 2)
  4. Carrie Underwood – “Heartbeat” (Up 2)
  5. Keith Urban – “Break On Me” -1 (Up 2)
  6. Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man” -1 (Down 3)
  7. Randy Houser – “We Went” -1 (Up 1)
  8. Zac Brown Band – “Beautiful Drug” -1 (Up 1)
  9. Sam Hunt – “Break Up In A Small Town” -1 (Down 5) [Worst Song]
  10. Cole Swindell – “You Should Be Here” -1 (Up 3)
  11. Florida Georgia Line – “Confession” 
  12. Brett Eldredge – “Drunk on Your Love” -1 (Up 2)
  13. Chase Bryant – “Little Bit of You” -1 (Up 3)
  14. Rascal Flatts – “I Like The Sound of That” -1 (Up 1)
  15. Chris Stapleton – “Nobody To Blame” +1 (Up 2)
  16. Old Dominion – “Snapback” -1 (Up 2)
  17. Maren Morris – “My Church” +1 (Up 2)
  18. Lee Brice – “That Don’t Sound Like You” -1 (Up 2)
  19. Dustin Lynch – “Mind Reader” -1 (Up 2)
  20. Michael Ray – “Real Men Love Jesus” -1 (Up 2)
  21. Chris Young & Cassadee Pope – “Think of You” (Up 3)
  22. Dierks Bentley – “Somewhere On A Beach” -1 (Up 3)
  23. Brantley Gilbert – “Stone Cold Sober” -1 
  24. Tim McGraw – “Humble and Kind” +1 (New to Top 30)
  25. Chris Lane – “Fix” -1 (Up 4)
  26. Jon Pardi – “Head Over Boots” +1 (Up 2)
  27. Maddie & Tae – “Shut Up and Fish” +1 [Best Song]
  28. Tyler Farr – “Better in Boots” -1 (Down 2)
  29. David Nail – “Night’s On Fire” -1 (Up 1)
  30. Frankie Ballard – “It All Started With a Beer” +1 (New to Top 30)

The Current Pulse of Mainstream Country Music: -15

The pulse improved three spots this week. 

Songs That Dropped Out of the Top 30 This Week:

  • Brothers Osborne – “Stay A Little Longer”
  • Brad Paisley – “Country Nation”

Songs That Entered The Top 30 This Week:

  • Tim McGraw – “Humble And Kind”
  • Frankie Ballard – “It All Started With a Beer”

Song I Predict Will Be #1 Next Week:

  • Granger Smith – “Backroad Song”

Biggest Gainers This Week:

  • Tim McGraw – “Humble And Kind” – Up 9 from #33 to #24
  • Chris Lane – “Fix” – Up 4 from #29 to #25
  • Four different songs moved up three spots on the chart

Biggest Losers This Week:

  • Brothers Osborne – “Stay A Little Longer” – Out of the Top 30
  • Brad Paisley – “Country Nation” – Out of the Top 30
  • Sam Hunt – “Break Up In A Small Town” – Down 5 from #4 to #9

Songs I See Going Recurrent & Leaving The Top 30 Soon:

  • Sam Hunt – “Break Up In A Small Town”
  • Thomas Rhett – “Die A Happy Man”
  • Brantley Gilbert – “Stone Cold Sober”
  • Tyler Farr – “Better in Boots”

On The Hot Seat:

  • Maddie & Tae – “Shut Up and Fish” (I think it could just as easily recover, but it needs to happen soon)
  • David Nail – “Night’s On Fire” (It has terrible call out scores and I’m surprised it even cracked the top 30)

Next Four Songs I See Entering Top 30:

  • Thomas Rhett – “T-Shirt”
  • Justin Moore – “You Look Like I Need A Drink”
  • Kip Moore – “Running For You”
  • Eric Church – “Record Year”

Note: We’re finally starting to see a lot of the good songs lurking outside of the top 30 enter it, which bodes well for the pulse to continue to rise higher. At the same time some bad songs are finally running their course and dropping out. With more good songs entering the top 60 this week and with Zac Brown Band and Carrie Underwood’s next singles likely to be good, we could be looking at a positive country radio environment within the next month and a half. I’m cautiously optimistic, but optimistic nonetheless.

 

As always be sure to weigh in on this week’s chart in the comments below.