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

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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”

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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 Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music [March 2008]

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This is the Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country  Airplay Chart from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top 30 songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9[+4], 8[+3], 7[+2], 6[+1], 5[0], 4[-1], 3[-2], 2[-3], 1[-4], 0[-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past pulse of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Country Airplay Chart from March 15th, 2008.

  1. Carrie Underwood – “All American Girl” +1 (Cliché, but the sound and vocals are good)
  2. Rodney Atkins – “Cleaning This Gun (Come On In Boy)” 0
  3. Alan Jackson – “Small Town Southern Man” +4 (One of his best in my opinion)
  4. Kenny Chesney & George Strait – “Shiftwork” 0
  5. Chuck Wicks – “Stealing Cinderella” +1 (cheesy as all hell, but it’s played with enough sincerity to work for me)
  6. Trace Adkins – “You’re Gonna Miss This” +4
  7. Gary Allan – “Watching Airplanes” +2
  8. George Strait – “I Saw God Today” +4
  9. Chris Cagle – “What Kinda Gone” +2
  10. Jason Aldean – “Laughed Until We Cried” +3 (Yeah, a positive Aldean score. I’m as shocked as you all are)
  11. Brooks & Dunn – “God Must be Busy” +2
  12. James Otto – “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” 0 (Eh…)
  13. Taylor Swift – “Picture To Burn” +1
  14. Phil Vassar – “Love Is A Beautiful Thing” +1 (Cheesy as all hell, but at least it sort of incorporates a story)
  15. Bucky Covington – “It’s Good To Be Us” -1
  16. Lady Antebellum – “Love Don’t Live Here” +3
  17. Kellie Pickler – “Things That Never Cross A Man’s Mind” +1
  18. Joe Nichols – “It Ain’t No Crime” +1
  19. Jewel – “Stronger Woman” -1 [Worst Song] (Man, never heard a song by here before. Don’t care for her voice at all. Plus the song is too preachy for me. Sorry)
  20. Jake Owen – “Somethin’ Bout A Woman” 0
  21. Dierks Bentley – “Trying To Stop Your Leaving” +3
  22. Josh Turner & Trisha Yearwood – “Another Try” +4 [Best Song]
  23. Garth Brooks & Huey Lewis – “Workin’ For A Livin'” +2 (Yes, I’ve heard this Garth song)
  24. Ashton Shepherd – “Takin’ Off This Pain” +2
  25. Jack Ingram – “Maybe She’ll Get Lonely” 0
  26. Rascal Flatts – “Every Day” -1
  27. Brad Paisley – “I’m Still A Guy” +2
  28. Montgomery Gentry – “Back When I Knew It All” +3
  29. Josh Gracin – “We Weren’t Crazy” +2 (Yes, people on country radio used to sing from the perspective of ONCE being young instead of pretending they’re still young…)
  30. The Eagles – “Busy Being Fabulous” 0

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +45

So yeah this kind of a weird week. On one hand, there’s a plethora of great songs. Even compared to some charts in the 90’s I’d say there’s more good songs here. In other words, quantity versus quality. In fact, picking the best song was absolutely brutal.

The problem is that there’s also a lot of mediocrity here. Nothing inherently terrible or anything, but there are too many songs that play it safe here and don’t really stand out that much. Still this is a damn good week. I’m happy with the results.

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [May 2013]

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This is the past pulse of mainstream country music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country Airplay Chart (or, “Hot Country Songs” as it used to be called) from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past state of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. Admittedly my week was pretty hectic, therefore I’m taking a break from my review backlog this week. It will resume next week, but for now I picked 2013 since I already knew my thoughts on all thirty songs. This week’s chart will be from May 11th, 2013.

  1. Thompson Square – “If I Didn’t Have You” +1
  2. Florida Georgia Line – “Get Your Shine On” -3 (Admittedly this song REALLY annoys me, but it’s more of a personal thing. Therefore I decided to be fair.)
  3. Miranda Lambert – “Mama’s Broken Heart” 0
  4. Lady Antebellum – “Downtown” 0
  5. Kenny Chesney – “Pirate Flag” -3
  6. Darius Rucker – “Wagon Wheel” +1 (I don’t think the song is all that special but eh…it was the most country thing to hit the top in quite a while so whatever)
  7. Tim McGraw & Taylor Swift & Keith Urban – “Highway Don’t Care” -2
  8. George Strait – “Give It All We Got Tonight” 0
  9. Chris Young – “I Can Take It From There” +1
  10. Brad Paisley – “Beat This Summer” +3 [Best Song]
  11. Eric Church – “Like Jesus Does” +1
  12. Blake Shelton  & The Pistol Annies – “Boys ‘Round Here” -5 [Worst Song…..Ever]
  13. Brantley Gilbert – “More Than Miles” +1
  14. The Band Perry – “DONE” -1 (And now they really are!)
  15. Jason Aldean – “1994” -5 [Worst Song…..oh shit I already handed this out? Ugh….]
  16. Jake Owen – “Anywhere With You” 0
  17. Zac Brown Band – “Jump Right In” +1
  18. Luke Bryan – “Crash My Party” -1
  19. Gloriana – “Can’t Shake You” +2
  20. The Henningsens – “American Beautiful” 0
  21. Kip Moore – “Hey Pretty Girl” +2
  22. Easton Corbin – “All Over The Road” -1
  23. Hunter Hayes – “I Want Crazy” -2
  24. Carrie Underwood – “See You Again” +1
  25. Gary Allan – “Pieces” +1
  26. Brett Eldredge – “Don’t Ya” -1 (Almost a 0 but that opening line is just way too cringe worthy)
  27. Kelly Clarkson & Vince Gill – “Don’t Rush” +1
  28. Justin Moore – “Point At You” -1
  29. Billy Currington – “Hey Girl” -3
  30. Randy Houser – “Runnin’ Outta Moonlight” -2

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: -14

So yeah this week was definitely a bust. From the looks at the bottom half of the chart, it looks like we were just about to be inundated with bro-country. Elsewhere, Jason Aldean and Blake Shelton run away with the “honor” of having two of the absolute worst songs to ever descend upon the country genre. Even looking beyond that there’s just not a whole lot here. The best song for me is Brad Paisley’s experimental “Beat This Summer” but only that is great as opposed to outright excellent. Honestly there’s just a whole lot of mediocrity here.

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!

The Past Pulse of Mainstream Country Music [June 2007]

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This is the past pulse of mainstream country music. Each week, I take a look at the Billboard Country Airplay Chart (or, “Hot Country Songs” as it used to be called) from years ago and grade the top 30 songs. Each week will be a different year. The grading format I use each week is every song will receive one of the following scores: +5, +4, +3, +2, +1, 0, -1, -2, -3, -4, -5. These will then be tallied up for an overall score, or pulse of the past top thirty country songs, with the highest possible score being a +150 and the lowest possible score being a -150. The grade I would give it determines its Pulse score. The grading key: 10 [+5], 9 [+4], 8 [+3], 7 [+2], 6 [+1], 5 [0], 4 [-1], 3 [-2], 2 [-3], 1 [-4], 0 [-5].

The goal of this exercise is to evaluate the past state of mainstream country music and determine if it was better or worse compared to now. To see the full list of the top 30 country airplay songs for this week, click here. This week I will take a look at the top 30 songs of the Billboard Hot Country Songs from June 30th, 2007. In honor of my request backlog from a couple of weeks ago, this week’s chart goes out to Raymond. Thanks for reading Raymond!

  1. Brad Paisley – “Ticks” -1 (I’m sorry, for as humorous as Brad can be this just did nothing for me)
  2. Tracy Lawrence feat. Tim McGraw & Kenny Chesney – “Find Out Who Your Friends Are” +3
  3. Montgomery Gentry – “Lucky Man” +2
  4. George Strait – “Wrapped” +3 (Holy fiddle and steel Batman!)
  5. Emerson Drive – “Moments” +4
  6. Big & Rich – “Lost In This Moment” 0
  7. Billy Currington – “Good Directions” +3
  8. Keith Urban – “I Told You So” -2 [Worst Song] (The narrator’s arrogance just does nothing for me. I like the sound but that’s it)
  9. Alan Jackson – “A Woman’s Love” +1 (I like the bluesy feel. Just wish the theme was a little less conventional)
  10. Jake Owen – “Startin’ With Me” +4
  11. Jason Aldean – “Johnny Cash” +1 (Guilty pleasure…..sue me)
  12. Taylor Swift – “Teardrops On My Guitar” +2
  13. Kenny Chesney – “Never Wanted Nothing More” +2
  14. Tim McGraw & Faith Hill – “I Need You” +3 (So you guys both have an Uncle Joe in Oklahoma who needs rain huh? Kidding aside, this is solid)
  15. Rodney Atkins – “These Are My People” +2 (Yes, this is cliché as hell, but Rodney’s sincere delivery works for me. Plus that opening fiddle is just heavenly)
  16. Bucky Covington – “A Different World” +1 (Was he even old enough to know about all the things he’s singing about here? Regardless, at least it has a good sound)
  17. Craig Morgan – “Tough” +3
  18. Kellie Pickler – “I Wonder” +4 [Best Song]
  19. Eric Church – “Guys Like Me” +1
  20. Toby Keith – “High Maintenance Woman” +2 (I know this is a pretty well-known hated Toby song, but I think that the song isn’t meant to be taken that seriously. On that note, combined with the pretty good guitar work it passes for me)
  21. Reba & Kelly Clarkson – “Because Of You” +2
  22. Little Big Town – “A Little More You” +2
  23. Martina McBride – “How I Feel” -1
  24. Luke Bryan – “All My Friends Say” +3
  25. Sugarland – “Everyday America” 0 (Ugh, those Pop beats were unfortunately ahead of their time in country music. That of course means they were only slightly behind what pop was doing…)
  26. Jason Michael Carroll – “Livin’ Our Love Song” +1
  27. Cole Deggs and the Lonesome – “I Got More” +1 (Well, we had a guy whose name says “Cold eggs” and in the modern-day we have Colden Rainy Swindell. Go figure)
  28. Trace Adkins – “I Wanna Feel Something” +2
  29. Tim McGraw – “If You’re Reading This” +4 (Three times where McGraw is on the chart. It’s exactly like 2016! Not complaining though)
  30. Brooks & Dunn – “Proud Of The House We Built” +2 (Yes, it’s cheesy and corny as all hell. And yes, this is another song where I’m making excuses for why it works for me)

The Past Pulse Of Mainstream Country Music: +54

Well it would appear to be another good chart this week! In all honesty I was probably a little more forgiving of some of these songs than I should have been, but even before I became a hardcore country fan in 2010 I always had memories of some of these songs playing on my grandparent’s radio. Nostalgia admittedly gets in the way of some of these songs for me, but hey none of us are free from bias. I went with Kellie Pickler’s “I Wonder” for the best song honor since it came from a personal place and is excellent to boot. It was hard to pull off getting a song like that to be a single in 2007 and it’s pretty much impossible to do in 2016.

As always, if you have any questions as to why I gave a song a certain grade feel free to ask me. Also, let me know what you guys think of the chart in the comments!