Little Big Town & Avett Brothers Albums Aiming High on Billboard 200 Chart

80 Billboard Rating

LITTLE BIG TOWN
Tornado
Producer: Jay Joyce
Capitol Nashville
Release Date: Sept. 11

This co-ed Nashville quartet turned in one of the strongest -- and most polished -- performances on Lionel Richie's recent country duets album, "Tuskegee," where the group applied its signature vocal harmonies to a lush rendition of "Deep River Woman." But if that appearance emphasized Little Big Town's smooth streak, its new studio album, "Tornado," seems designed to demonstrate that stardom hasn't separated the band from the backwoods roots it famously celebrated in the song "Boondocks." (This despite the sleek young-Hollywood formal wear the members wear on the album's cover.) In opener "Pavement Ends" a drummer counts off the tune Ramones-style before a brisk banjo riff revs to life. Later, "Pontoon" rides a low-slung hip-hop-style beat, while "Front Porch Thing" packs as much fuzz-guitar action as a Kings of Leon cut. Partial credit for the set's rough-and-rumble vibe should probably go to producer Jay Joyce, known for his work with Eric Church and Cage the Elephant. But even when the music mellows, as in "Sober," Little Big Town preserves an air of abandon, singing, "When I die I don't wanna go sober."

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