Album Remarks & Appraisals:
The Reason Why is the fourth studio album by American country group Little Big Town. It was released on August 24, 2010 via Capitol Nashville."Little White Church," which was released in March 2010 as the album's lead-off single, has since become a Top 10 hit on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs chart.
The album's title track was released as a digital single on July 27, 2010 to begin an iTunes countdown to the album release on August 24, 2010. Three further digital singles - "Kiss Goodbye," "Why, Oh Why," and "All the Way Down" - were released weekly leading up until the album release."Little White Church" is the first release to radio, having reached Top 10 on the Hot Country Songs charts."Rain on a Tin Roof," written by Chris Stapleton and Trent Willmon, previously appeared on Julie Roberts's 2004 self-titled debut album. The album's second single, "Kiss Goodbye," was released to radio in October 2010.
"Contemporary country music is hardly a meritocracy, but the fact that Little Big Town has yet to earn the commercial profile that their talent and critical clout deserve is a real head-scratcher. They've generally made wise choices for their singles, and their albums consistently boast greater depth than those of Rascal Flatts, Sugarland, or Lady Antebellum. Whether or not their fourth album, The Reason Why, reverses that trend, it stands as the quartet's most consistent set to date, and it's one of the better albums in what has been a lackluster year for country.
With their four-part harmonies and a style that is heavily influenced by '70s-era rock, Little Big Town is always going to draw comparisons to Fleetwood Mac, but songs like "Why, Oh Why" and "Shut Up Train" are far less derivative than some of Little Big Town's previous material. Producer Wayne Kirkpatrick still brings in some blues-derived electric guitar riffs, but much ofThe Reason Why sounds like a deliberate move away from those Fleetwood Mac tags. The a cappella opening on the former song is a perfect showcase for the band's intricate vocal harmonies, while the latter cut gives the band's strongest soloist, Karen Fairchild, an opportunity to shine on a straightforward, unadorned country ballad.
Fairchild also carries the phenomenal lead single "Little White Church," which makes brilliant use of one of those blues riffs in its verses and chorus, but which uses nothing but some well-timed handclaps in its B-section. It's the band's finest single since they broke through with "Boondocks" some five years ago, and, like that hit, "Little White Church" demonstrates that Little Big Town and Kirkpatrick know how to toy with conventional song structures in order to show off what makes the band unique.
While "Little White Church" is easily the standout on the album, the remainder of The Reason Why is solid."You Can't Have Everything" is a surprisingly traditional-minded ballad that builds to a forceful, modern coda."Kiss Goodbye" is another arena-sized pop ballad that trumps everything except the title track on Lady Antebellum's lackluster Need You Now, and the band does a sensitive cover of "Rain on a Tin Roof," a cut from the even more underrated Julie Roberts's debut record. The ballads tend to be the better-written songs, but the band sells uptempo cuts like "Runaway Train" and the title track with gusto.
The songs are definitely there on The Reason Why, and the production draws more heavily from contemporary influences than on the group's previous albums. And the performances have always been there for Little Big Town; The Reason Why provides just more evidence that there isn't another act in any genre of popular music with greater skill in arranging vocal harmonies. At this point, there's no logical reason that this shouldn't be Little Big Town's long overdue star turn." - SlantMagazine
"The most omnipresent group in country, maybe even commercial pop, music right now might be the male-female-male vocal trio Lady Antebellum. Waiting in the wings this summer to steal the stage back is the female-male duo Sugarland, formerly a female-male-female trio (they're battling that departure out in court), with a new album out soon. Touring this year, after getting attention for their 2009 debut album, is the youthful foursome Gloriana, two women and two men who all sing together.
None of these groups was around in 1998, when Karen Fairchild, Jimi Westbrook, Phillip Sweet, and Kimberly Schlapman formed Little Big Town. What they've been doing since is similar to those other groups: writing and singing songs meant to show off how well they sing, and how well they sing together. The group hasn't reached mega-stardom as quickly as Sugarland or Lady Antebellum, though they have had hits, including a collaboration with Sugarland. Their two top 10 country hits were both from their second album, released in 2005.
To say that Little Big Town's sound is based on the interplay of their four voices would be a serious understatement. It's what they are about. Towards the beginning of their fourth LP, it almost threatens to overshadow their songs. The first thing you notice on The Reason Why is a soft cloud of voices, in appearance similar to the glow of light that seems to inhabit their hair in the band photo on the '70s-tinged album cover.
The vagueness suggested by clouds transfers to how they sing about life and love. Everything has a romantic tone, but, with some exceptions, it isn't illustrated through specific scenes or stories. The title track, and opening song, sets this up well. Voices float around an ambiguous portrait of love as something you actively let yourself inactively fall into, something you surrender to: "I could love you / If you want me too / I could go on and fall for you and never even try". That's a conundrum if I've ever heard one. Throughout the album, over storytelling they choose aphorisms ("When you lose something / It's all that you want back"), mood, metaphors, and expressions of romance that get convoluted enough to resemble philosophical quandaries. In nearly every song, we don't know who these people are, where they are, or what they do with their days. What do we know? There's a strong wind blowing, our hearts are running like rivers, and there's a train outside making so much noise that no one can get it to shut up.
Occasionally they get specific. Often, it involves trains, as on "Runaway Train", which has an actual story, but one that rushes past us quickly, and "Shut Up Train", where we at least understand that our lonesome protagonist lives in a house near a train. Still, in that latter song, the specifics mostly represent an idea. It isn't that the train sound reminds her of someone who left, or that she should be moving on, but that the train sounds exactly like how she feels, and reminds her how she feels: cold, metallic, mechanical. It resonates with her brain and heart, which is where these songs live, more so than in the material world of physical things you can grasp and see. On The Reason Why, specific details almost always stand in for ideas. This is true with "Rain on a Tin Roof", which has no actual rain on an actual tin roof, and "Life Rolls On". The first single, "Little White Church", is the most visceral of the songs, where you can grasp most firmly who is singing what to you. It's also the bluesiest song, which is not unrelated. The more specific the group gets, the more they set the scene, the crisper and more physical the music itself gets.
For all the general-ness of their songs, the South does emerge strongly as a setting, as a feeling or a style as often as a real place. That happens partly through images of trees, front porches, plantations, and little white churches, but also on a musical level. Across the album they nod toward old traditional music while slathering a Keith Urbanesque romantic sheen across it. "Why, Oh Why" has a chorus ("Why, oh why / Can't I lay this trouble down") that, especially when sung by the four without much accompaniment, sounds like something off the chart-topping Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, but the song itself throws in a hefty amount of near-funk arena rock. Filled with gentle clichés, word puzzles, and an occasional glimpse of the natural world, The Reason Why stands at a crossroads between story and metaphor, between surface and depth, between tradition and youth, that at times seems awfully representative of where country music lives today." -PopMatters
Billboard (p.28) - "'Life Rolls On,' 'Runaway Train' and 'All the Way Down' are buoyant bursts of joy..."
Audio Mixer: Jeff Balding.
Recording information: The Beanstalk, Franklin, TN.
Photographers: James Minchin III; John Peets.
It's anybody's guess why Little Big Town's three fine singles from 2007's excellent A Place to Land failed to crack the Top 30, or why the album didn't build upon the platinum success of its predecessor, The Road to Here. That said, the bluesy roil in "Little White Church," the pre-release single from The Reason Why, LBT's fourth studio album, proves that failure was a fluke. The trademark four-part harmony that separate them from the rest of the contemporary country pack isn't the only thing: their group songwriting -- with producer and guitarist Wayne Kirkpatrick as a fifth member -- is classy, sophisticated, and doesn't rely on genre clichés. While the '70s-period Fleetwood Mac and the Eagles were clear inspirations and influences earlier, here they've been integrated into a sound that is LBT's own. The guitars are a little fiercer, the harmonies looser, and therefore more emotionally expressive; they reflect the growth in their lyrics. And even as Karen Fairchild is asserting herself as a de facto frontwoman, the contributions made by Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook, Phillip Sweet and Kirkpatrick create an inseparable whole. The group wrote or co-wrote nine of the set's 12 songs, including the single, and it's their songs that shine brightest, beginning with the title-track opener. With a melody that resembles a 1960s pop song, Fairchild sings solo to a single-string electric guitar riff playing changes; the acoustic guitars fold underneath her voice and then the harmonies kick in to take the entire thing to the stratosphere. The intro harmonies on "Why, Oh Why" echo both the Louvin Brothers and Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, before a nasty electric-guitar vamp, a punched-up kick drum, snare and distorted slide guitar turn this into prime, funky country-rock. "All the Way Down," introduced by a scratchy vinyl record and harmonies singing the refrain as if from the distant past backed only by a banjo, promptly shifts gears into a prime modern-country song with soaring vocals, mandolins, and an infectious hook. "Lean into It" is the stripped-down ballad that closes the album. Gentle guitars and a lonely pedal adorn Sweet's vocal, which is girded by the voices of his bandmates to provide solace during the dark hours we all endure. The Reason Why is mature, exquisitely crafted, and radio friendly; it ups the ante for contemporary country in songwriting, performance, and production (the latter by stripping away excess). It's as near to a perfectly balanced recording as one will find in the genre. ~ Thom Jurek