Album Review: Little Big Town Finally Ready for the Big Time With Tour De Force 'Pain Killer'


There's a reason Little Big Town gets compared to Fleetwood Mac, and it's not just because two of the bandmates are married to each other or that the quartet performs a spirited take on "The Chain" in concert. It's also because the coed Alabama foursome often sings about complicated matters of the heart in lush, layered harmonies. But the group's full-lengths have only sporadically risen to the level of the potential shown on 2005's breakthrough hit, "Boondocks," or 2010's "Little White Church."

Little Big Town Talk Separate Guys' & Girls' Songwriting Sessions for 'Pain Killer'

Until now. Pain Killer, the group's sixth studio set, is the album that Little Big Town fans have been waiting for. Forget about the first single, the gimmicky "Day Drinking," which peaked at No. 10 on the Country Airplay chart: It's low-hanging fruit and a retread of the group's Grammy Award-winning "Pontoon." Especially in comparison to the depths that await on the rest of Pain Killer. The single is a gateway to ease fans into an album that rarely stops surprising with its lyrical twists and stunning vocal performances by all four members -- Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet -- all of whom trade off singing lead. But it's Fairchild who is first among equals here. She wails like a woman scorned on the bitter "Things You Don't Think About" and caresses her notes on the swaying "Girl Crush," a song about crushing on her lover's mistress and her captivating charms.

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Aggressively produced by Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Cage the Elephant), who helmed the band's fine 2012 effort, Tornado, Pain Killer is an in-your-face album with rock bombast, though there's enough occasional twang here to keep the country traditionalists happy. It's a tour de force when the music gets loud, but even more so when the quartet, whose members co-wrote eight of the songs here, quiets down and sings together on "Live Forever," a shimmering, understated ode to enduring love. It has taken 16 years to reach this point, but Little Big Town is finally ready for the big time.

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This article first appeared in the Oct. 25 issue of Billboard.


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