Music

Little Big Town: A Place to Land

Blake Boldt

Little Big Town leans into contemporary country with a terrific mix of harmony work borrowed liberally from 1970s country-rock and their own brand of life-and-love ballads and jangly rockers.


Little Big Town

A Place to Land

Label: Capitol
US Release Date: 2008-10-14
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon
iTunes

Distinctive without being too derivative, Little Big Town has created a concoction of stripped-down acoustic country with pop elements, the result of which is a sound that is far more satisfying than typical Nashville fare. After a move from their former home, Equity Music Group, to Capitol Records, the band has prepared a re-release of their third studio album, A Place to Land.

The new version includes four added tracks, featuring the collaboration with Sugarland and Jake Owen, “Life in a Northern Town”. The album is a continuation of the sound constructed on their stellar, platinum-selling disc, The Road to Here, an album that brought the band their first two Top Ten singles and multiple Grammy nominations. On A Place to Land, Little Big Town blends the best of ‘70s country-rock with a few modern tricks of the trade, creating a crisp, clear musical style that complements a superb set of songs.

Wayne Kirkpatrick, the band’s producer and songwriting partner, melds elements from a number of different musical genres into a natural, distinguishing sound for the band. The members of Little Big Town co-produced and co-wrote the album with Kirkpatrick (save two tracks from the pen of Jon Randall, “Lonely Enough” and “Firebird Fly”, and Kirkpatrick’s own “Love Profound”).

Easy comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles and other ‘70s pop-rock/country outfits abound when examining Little Big Town’s releases up to this point, but rather than recycling old sounds, they reinvigorate the music with their tightly-wound harmony work and excellent songwriting. Yes, the band’s influences are evident with every note, but they sing and write with such class that the album seems as fresh as anything country music has offered recently. It’s a focused effort with country arrangements that pay tribute to an era in music where there weren’t hard-and-fast rules. Little Big Town does so with warm, welcoming arrangements of well-crafted songs. Is A Place to Land traditional? Not exactly. But it’s still worthy of respect and even praise at its strongest points.

“Fine Line,” the current country radio single from the quartet, is a strong indication of the direction that Little Big Town takes on the album. Though the song, with Karen Fairchild out front, borrows heavily from the Fleetwood Mac template, it rings true to the band’s own signature style. This style is born out of the familiar themes of love in all forms that marks so much of country music, but the band understands that a message can be sent without the production noise that’s troubled so many recent country releases. In fact, “I’m With the Band” seemed too laid-back for country playlists upon its release last fall, but it would’ve been a perfect fit for ‘70s radio. With a hint of dobro and the band’s intricate harmonies, the song is reminiscent of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer”, and stands as one of the best road songs in recent memory.

The upbeat “Novocaine” is a jangling rocker that is infectious, energetic and perfect for repeated listening and is a welcome respite from the cool, calm sounds on most of A Place to Land. The song begins with the dobro playing of Randy Kohrs and builds nicely throughout. And “That’s Where I’ll Be” features Dan Dugmore's intricate pedal and lap steel playing. It’s these little flourishes of distinct country instrumentation, on these songs and beyond, that allow A Place to Land to stay firmly rooted within country boundaries without being constricted by them.

Two different takes on mistreatment at the hands of a troubled man highlight the album's darker tones. “Evangeline”, an unsettling story of emotional abuse, is given added weight by the lonesome, lingering harmony vocals and a focus on lyrical content that often evades songs of such substance. And “Fury”, the story of one woman’s wish for revenge on her cheating man, rages with intensity and stands as a nice balance to the more laid-back tracks here. Its emphasis on electric guitars creates an interesting, but somehow appropriate impression on such a rootsy, organic album, with Jimi Westbrook taking the lead on the groovy number.

But overall this set has a gentle ebb and flow that makes the saddest songs still rooted in an inner faith and strength and the uplifting numbers sound tinged with melancholy. A Place to Land closes with the four additional tracks. Excluding the surprising-success collaboration “Life in a Northern Town”, the three new songs neither detract nor add appreciably to the theme and the content of the album. The most notable of this trio of laid-back ballads is “Love Profound”, an eloquent Wayne Kirkpatrick-penned song that explores love’s endless rewards, saying that “it rescues, it nurtures, it calms and it heals” with a smoothly-swaying chorus of comfort.

A Place to Land is awash with just enough pop leanings to appeal to a wide audience, but still treads on the country side of popular music. Little Big Town leaves an impression with every note, whether it’s steeped in melancholy or stamped with an infectious joy, and they continue to polish their craft with this latest step in their musical catalog.

8

Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.

Books

Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.

Music

PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.

Film

'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.

Music

Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.

Film

Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.

Music

Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Music

The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.

Music

Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.

Music

Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.

Music

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.

Music

'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.

Music

Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.

Television

Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.

Film

Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.

Music

The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.