‘Nightfall’ is a very important release for Little Big Town. This really has to make a statement. The stream of consistent radio hits has dried up a little, along with their awards show dominance. One thing’s for certain – the quality of their output has never diminished, and this will be one of the most highly-anticipated releases of the year for many.
They’re just about to embark on a nationwide U.S. tour, playing intimate theatres with two night stints in some areas. Karen described it as being “very different to anything we’ve done before”, and ‘Nightfall’ is the perfect album for that kind of environment. The whole project feels intimate, intricate and delicate, and will sound wonderful in a more laid-back, living-room style setting. Not jealous of you U.S. folks at all, I swear!
The stand-out track on the album is, without a shadow of a doubt, ‘River Of Stars’, with Jimi and Karen sharing lead vocals. The most brilliantly-produced track released in recent memory; it’s atmospheric, powerful and image-provoking in equal measure. If you’re a fan of the sort of ethereal-sounding LBT material like ‘Night On Our Side’ from the previous album, this is most definitely the one for you. Allow yourself to drift away and get lost in its dreamy melody – it’s a gorgeous piece of work, both in terms of vocal delivery and production…
It’s hardly surprising to note that the producers involved in ‘Nightfall’ are Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk, who worked on Kacey Musgraves’ iconic ‘Golden Hour’ album. There are distinct sonic similarities between the two albums, whilst also playing to Little Big Town’s vocal strengths, stripping back in places to allow their unrivalled harmonies to shine.
Phillip Sweet is one of the most under-rated vocalists in country music, and you’ve only got to listen to ‘Forever And A Night’ to get my drift. The most soulful, gospel-influenced moment on the album, it showcases Phillip’s gravelly rawness to perfection and is simply made for a LBT live show. Songs like ‘Bring It On Home’, ‘Live Forever’ and ‘The Breaker’ are made so special with Phillip on lead, and this is another one to add to that stunning category.
One aspect that stood out from the first listen, however, is the lack of instantly-recognisable radio singles, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing at all. It’s an album with great depth and meaning, and aside from ‘Sugar Coat’ and the already-released ‘The Daughters’, it’s difficult to pinpoint a potential mainstream hit. This feels very much like the album that Little Big Town wanted to release at this point in their career, not chasing radio success but just focusing on the sheer quality of songwriting and production, which will do more for their legacy in the long-run. It’s a beautifully authentic, artistic collection of songs that showcase their creativity better than ever before.
A real ‘WTF’ moment is the Mexican-infused ‘Wine, Beer, Whiskey’, which will certainly catch you by surprise on the first listen. It’s an infectious grower and gets catchier with each listen, but it’s a strange addition to the album that we probably could have done without. On a project of such sophistication and depth, it feels a little out of place and would have fitted much better onto a more diverse project like the ‘Painkiller’ album.
There are some massive heartstring-tuggers on offer elsewhere, with the likes of ‘Questions’ which is another stand-out. With Karen on lead, it explores that uneasy post-relationship situation where you’re pondering what the ex is up to now – “are you thinking about giving her your Grandma’s ring, the one your Mama gave you, your gift to me?”. Powerful, thought-provoking songwriting at its very best, and nobody carries emotion in a performance quite like Karen Fairchild. ‘Problem Child’, with Jimi on lead, will also resonate with many, tackling the issue of anxiety and loneliness – “Why don’t you fit in? Why don’t you add up? I’ve been asked time after time… what’s your problem, child?”. Some gorgeous strings involved here, too, adding an extra layer of magic.
‘Nightfall’ is an album that could well divide opinions, but if you get it, you’ll REALLY get it. It’s one for the purists and those who appreciate the craft of piecing together an album from front to back. Don’t expect a commercially-appealing record packed full of radio hits; what we have is a really solid, meaningful piece of work that suits Little Big Town to a tee at this point in their career, and continues to solidify their legacy in the genre.