Album Review – Little Big Town’s ‘The Breaker’

little-big-town-the-breaker

Let’s be honest: I wasn’t exactly a fan of Little Big Town’s last album Pain Killer. I went back and re-read it. I was actually quite brutal with my remarks. Man, did I go in on the 80s rock comparisons. In my defense though these comparisons weren’t off and I can honestly say I only remember two songs from that album, “Day Drinking” and “Girl Crush.” The latter of course went on to become Little Big Town’s biggest hit yet and racked up tons of awards. So at least the best song went on to earn the most praise. Coming into this veteran group’s new album The Breaker, I was kind of cautiously optimistic based off the Taylor Swift-penned lead single “Better Man.” But in the back of my mind I still remembered the previous album being a disappointment. After all Jay Joyce returns as producer, who was a big part of why the last album was underwhelming and forgettable. Well after listening to The Breaker, it’s definitely a step up and into the right direction for this group.

The opening song “Happy People” really establishes the overall tone and vibe of this album. It’s a very easy-going, light, roots-y type sound that permeates throughout this song and album. The song is about doing whatever floats your boat and how happy people do a lot more than unhappy people in this life. It takes a few listens, but the lyrics kind of subtly impress. It’s no surprise considering two great songwriters in Lori McKenna and Hailey Whitters wrote it. One of the more upbeat tracks on this album is “Night On Our Side.” It’s catchy, but the song itself really doesn’t have much to say and is greatly aided by the vibrant instrumentation. Moody and mellow would best describe “Lost In California.” This might be the most different song I’ve heard from Little Big Town, as this song is very much driven by tone. The song is a love ballad and features some illustrative songwriting that really paints a picture in your head, a credit to the famous troika of Hillary Lindsey, Liz Rose and McKenna. Then we have the production, which perfectly compliments it with it’s dreamy, almost hazy like feel. It might be Jay Joyce’s best work he’s ever done.

This is before we get to what I would deem the best track on the album, “Free.” I knew right away that McKenna helped write this, as it just has the markings of her best work. The song is instantly feel good, along the same lines of “Humble and Kind.” It’s about how the things we want most in life are free and some of our best qualities are free too (how we get our sense of humor from a parent, our eye color from a relative). The harmonies are also perfectly timed. This is one of Little Big Town’s best songs it’s ever released and deserves to be a single. “Drivin’ Around” is a breezy, summer song you play with the windows down as you well drive around. I enjoy how the harmonies drives this song, but I wish the production were toned back a bit to let the song be more breezy and less overbearing at times (“Rollin'” is along the same lines). Nostalgia will determine how much you love “We Went To The Beach.” Most of the time nostalgia songs usually don’t work for me, but this one does because well I can relate to the first part of the song. If you can connect with a part of the song, it’s enjoyable. If not, it’s probably just okay. I also have to say Phillip Sweet was a good choice for lead vocals here, as his voice suites the overall mood of the song.

Kimberly Schlapman takes the lead on “Beat Up Bible.” It’s about the meaning of a Bible that’s been passed down through a family. The memories it holds and the lessons learned are what make it so special, even though it’s nearly fallen apart. Usually these types of songs devolve into cliché territory quickly, but this one has heart and comes across sincerely. Schlapman is a great choice for lead vocals, as her sweeter, more restrained voice suits it. Little Big Town do a really job tackling heartbreak on “When Someone Stops Loving You.” The song explores the feelings you go through after a breakup: having to trudge through the normal routine, forced to face life without that person and a little part still hoping they come crawling back. It’s well written and Jimi Westbrook really shines on lead vocals. The album’s title track closes the album out. With Sweet on lead vocals, the song is about a man who thought he would be the man of his woman’s dreams. But he ends up turning out to be the one to break her heart in the end. I enjoy the concept of this song, but I think it would have been even better if it were a duet between the man and woman, explaining each side. It would have really added some depth, but as is it’s a decent song.

Little Big Town delivers a pretty solid album in The Breaker. It’s a nice rebound from the group and mostly a return to where this group shines: more organic, restrained, harmony driven songs. Everything on this album is a step up, most notably the songwriting. Five co-writes from Lori McKenna, along with contributions from the likes of Natalie Hemby, Liz Rose and Hailey Whitters is likely to help an album in the songwriting department. Overall I like the sonic direction this album takes and the themes explored, but I felt like if it could have been taken further this could have been a great album. It felt like some potential was left on the table, but hopefully the group stays on its current path and takes these steps on the next album. Little Big Town should be proud though of their effort on The Breaker, as I think this will be one of the best albums from mainstream country in 2017.

Grade: 7/10

 

Recommend? – Yes

Album Highlights: Free, Lost In California, When Someone Stops Loving You, Happy People, Beat Up Bible, Better Man

Bad Songs: None

Wallpaper: Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old; Night On Our Side


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4 thoughts on “Album Review – Little Big Town’s ‘The Breaker’

  1. I actually really agree except I love “Night On Our Side” The harmonies there are awesome and it is such a jam. I also didn’t care for “Happy People”. But overall this is a great album and I love the harmonies and lyrics. Hopefully “Free” or “Beat Up Bible” get released. Those 2 in particular stand out to me.

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  2. I like the album. Much better than Pain Killer. Better songs, better lyrics, better harmony vocals, better production…
    But i don’t love the album. The album starts with “Happy People”. One of the tracks i skip. Can’t stand the lyrics & the singing. The other track i skip is “Don’t Die Young, Don’t Get Old”. An album filler.
    Not good but short is the rocking “Rollin'” & “When Someone Stops Loving You” “…it don’t make the evening news…”. Oh my…what a drama.
    The best tracks & my highlights are “Beat Up Bible”, “We Went To The Beach” & “Lost In California”.
    But no track can beat “Better Man”. (8/10)

    Billboard Top Country Albums (Country Update 02/27):
    #1 – New – Alison Krauss – Windy City
    #2 – Garth Brooks – The Ultimate Collection
    #3 – Brantley Gilbert – The Devil Don’t Sleep
    .
    #5 – New – Jessie James Decker – Gold (EP)

    Billboard Americana/Folk Albums (Country Update 02/27):
    #1 – New – Ryan Adams – Prisoner
    #2 – New – Alison Kraus – Windy City
    #3 – Chris Stapleton – Traveller

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  3. I agree with almost all of the album comments. I was pleasantly surprised by Jay Joyce’s work on this album, and watching the evolution of his production work has been quite amazing. Comparing this to Pain Killer is one such example of this change. I think overall the album is quality content and I agree with your rating of it. The only place that I disagree is in regards to “The Breaker.” I think the arrangement of the song was well done by Little Big Town. I think the intention of the song is to display guilt by one person, and they do this. There are duets displaying both sides of the break-up done before. There are a lot of songs that display the heartbreak side of things. I think there is a niche found by the song in regards to displaying the heartbreaker’s emotions. Now, with this being said, my opinion might be due to the fact that I have grown accustomed to the Brothers Osborne version of the song, as TJ Osborne co-wrote it. I highly recommend this version, but I think it shows why Little Big Town and Jay Joyce chose to display the song in such a fashion. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeNRTX0J934

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  4. I listened through the album twice, and I couldn’t get into it. If I were judging it as an adult contemporary offering, my opinion may be different. Too many of the songs have, as you said for one of the songs, a “dreamy, almost hazy like feel.” Everything about the album is smooth and sanitized. The harmonies are great, as usual with LBT, and I appreciate that you spent the time to analyze the lyrics and found value therein. But this album was disappointing for me, just like ‘Pain Killer’. I’ll be happy when they return to doing songs like “Boondocks,” “Good Lord Willing,” and “Little White Church.”

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