It feels like Little Big Town, the quartet comprised of Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet, are charting a new course with their cinematic ninth studio album that’s filled with strong, yet heartfelt observations. They set this precedent nearly one year prior to the album’s release when they unveiled “The Daughters,” a poetic and powerful reflection on the burdens placed on women, whether it be to mind her manners or sacrifice her dreams for someone else’s. They continue to explore this idea in an equally striking fashion on “Sugar Coat,” told from the perspective of a woman who must cloak her pain with a forced smile and metaphorical “sugar coat” – the tradition passed down to her by her mother. “It’s colder out there than you think,” Fairchild sings as the mother’s word of caution in the cinematic number that sounds like it belongs on a film soundtrack.
“Problem Child” is equally thought-provoking, with Westbrook taking lead vocals on the stirring piano ballad that turns vulnerable outward questions inward, his bandmates joining him to peel back the curtain on how it feels to be an outsider. “Are you the black sheep, have you been lonely out on the outside, you’re not the only one,” they sing with honest intention, extending an olive branch to those kindred spirits who feel invisible or unaccepted.
This sense of connecting with others manifests in various ways across the album, such as how they use darkness as a symbol of companionship. Fairchild puts forth this concept as she assures “I’ll be here right beside you through the darkest part” in “Nightfall” while Sweet begs “lie down here with me, here in the dark and listening to our hearts beat, bring it back to the start” on “Forever and a Night.” Husband and wife Westbrook and Fairchild continue this on “River of Stars,” a folk-like tale of two people who vow to paint a river of stars or cross the sapphire blue ocean to get to one another. But Nightfall isn’t without its lighthearted moments, as the band taps into their spunk and flair on the rousing “Wine, Beer, Whiskey.” A sea of Mexican horns opens the track that humorously personifies the various libations that save the quartet from their lowest moments, like friend Jack Daniels who always has their back and their crew of “Brandy,” “Sherry” and “Jim.”
They bring the album to peaceful place with the warm and welcoming “Bluebird,” using the tender-hearted creature as a symbol of unconditional love they share with those they cherish. They leave us with a potent thought on “Trouble With Forever,” shared through the story of a marriage ending after 50 years. The song demonstrates why the longtime bandmates are such compelling storytellers, their sweet harmonies leaving one mystified with the final thought, “as close to forever as you’ll ever get, the trouble with forever is it always ends.”
Though released during the first month of the year, with its meaningful lyrics, organic instrumentation and pure chemistry between the beloved group, Nightfall is poised to be one of the best albums country music has to offer in 2020.