Sunday, September 5, 2010

Album Review: Little Big Town - The Reason Why

Despite having been in a commercial rut for the past three years, Little Big Town seems to be making a notable comeback with their first new album since 2007.  The Reason Why has already become the first number-one album of the group's career, aided by one of the strongest singles of 2010 ("Little White Church," their first Top 10 hit in four years).

The musical stylings of The Reason Why remains rooted in contemporary country while incorporating moderate rock influence throughout.  On most of the tracks, the rock elements complement the songs rather than detracting from them.  The only exception is "Runaway Train," in which the screeching electric guitars nearly drown out all four voices, distracting from the vocals and the lyrical narrative.  The album features an eclectic mix of rousing country-rock tunes interspersed with simple stripped-down acoustic numbers.

There are a few noteworthy album highlights.  One highlight is the soft acoustic ballad, "You Can't Have Everything," in which Kimberly Schlapman takes on the role of a wife reflecting on the many blessings in her life, wishing that the her husband's love was one of them.  The harmonies soar beautifully on "Kiss Goodbye" a ballad about learning to let go of lost love and move on.  Just try to listen to the sing-along-worthy "All the Way Down" without getting totally hooked on it.

The vocal arrangements effectively showcase LBT's signature harmonies while still allowing each vocalist to shine individually.  In typical LBT fashion, the four members rotate lead vocal duties on different tracks.  All are capable frontmen, but the album's most memorable moments often come when Karen Fairchild handles lead vocal duties.  "Little White Church" is one of the finest displays of her vocal abilities, in which she firmly demands commitment from her man, and lets him know that she means business.  On the other hand, she can deliver a sorrowful ballad like "Shut Up Train" with equal sincerity.

The album does suffer from a couple of forgettable tunes, such as the bland-but-listenable "Life Rolls On," and the lackluster cover of Julie Roberts' "Rain On a Tin Roof."  Nevertheless, it is an overall solid effort that could be just strong enough to push Little Big Town back to top-drawer status.

(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)