LITTLE BIG TOWN: Nashville ABBA by Jim Colyer
Little Big Town consists of Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet. They have been together as a group since 1998. Karen and Kimberly met in college in Alabama. Jimi and Karen are man and wife. Kimberly and Phillip are married but to other people. Each person in the group has one child.
Karen and Kimberly met at Samford University in Alabama in 1987. Their friendship forms the core of the group. They ended up in Nashville, where they were joined by Jimi and Phillip. The LBT girls are awesome! Karen inspired me to write hundreds of new lyrics! She became my Muse! Kimberly is famous for her curly hair and dimples. She had a cooking show called Simply Southern and wrote a cook book called "Oh Gussie!
Karen Fairchild - September 28, 1969
Kimberly Schlapman - October 15, 1969
Jimi Westbrook - October 20, 1971
Phillip Sweet - March 18, 1974
I stumbled onto Little Big Town in 2013. I had been hearing "Good As Gone" & "Little White Church" in karaoke bars but had no knowledge of the group or how good they were. "Pontoon" hitting number one had a major impact! Suddenly, they were superstars headlining the Tornado tour. When I found out they were appearing at the Ryman, I got my ticket before it sold out.
I see ABBA in Little Big Town! Two guys, two girls! A blonde and a brunette. Blonde Kimberly Schlapman sings high. Dark-haired Karen Fairchild sings low. Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet complete the 4-part harmony that makes the group special. They have 6 albums dating back to 2002. They write much of their own material, and every song is good! Jimi plays mandolin. Phillip plays rhythm guitar.
Little Big Town went from Mercury Records to Monument, where they released a self-titled album. They ended up on Capitol.
Little Big Town 2002
The Road To Here 2005
A Place To Land 2007
The Reason Why 2010
Wayne Kirkpatrick produced 3 albums. Jay Joyce produced Tornado and Pain Killer. Tornado was number one for 5 weeks and certified gold by the RIAA. "Pontoon" won a Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance.
Little Big Town's album cuts are as good as their singles. They impress with their relentless harmony! Not many groups have four lead singers! They use an assortment of instruments: guitars, bass, drums, fiddle, mandolin, banjo, dobro and steel.
LBT incorporates every genre: country, rock, pop, bluegrass, folk and gospel, and they put their own stamp on it. Theirs is the first music I liked since Shania, and I listed their songs in order from my favorite to my least favorite.
1 PONTOON - This is a great song and a well-produced record, very charming. The lyrics consist of a set of commands. "Pontoon" is my second favorite song after "Dancing Queen." I do not mind getting on Nashville's karaoke stages and giving them my best Karen Fairchild impersonation! I did not know what a pontoon was and had to google it. Same with a coozie. Now I know! I was informed that "motorboatin" means putting your face between a woman's boobs and moving your head from side to side while making the sound of a motor boat. The song's bridge is a short rap, and Fairchild inhales at the end of it. "Pontoon" was penned by Luke Laird, Natalie Hemby and Barry Dean. The intro features Jimi's mandolin.
2 GIRL CRUSH - This is my favorite from Pain Killer! Fairchild has a crush on this girl because she has what it takes to get this man. Fairchild wants to be like her. It is not what you think even though it can be viewed as borderline. "Girl Crush" got Song of the Year.
3 GOOD AS GONE has a video. Fairchild comes up the sidewalk to a hotel. She bursts into the room and tosses her cheater on the bed. The four convene on the rooftop to finish the song. The lyrics emphasize negative words: "cold, bad, lost, and cheap." Other LBT songs end with the word "gone." "Take the next splitsville exit ramp" is cool. The outro adds intensity.
4 TORNADO - Fairchild really changes the weather with "Tornado." She had to become the alpha female if Little Big Town was going to hit the top. This is the title track of their 5th album.
5 LONELY ENOUGH - I do not pray. If I did, it would go something like this. She believes in God but is angry with him for taking her love. This song grabbed me quick!
6 VAPOR is about our lust for life in the context of mortality. We are a vapor, a transient mist here for a moment and gone forever. I recall kissing my dad. Perhaps we have all done something like that. Photos show that our parents were as young and younger than we are now. And even "now" will slide into eternity.
"Sitting by the bed side, held his hand and kissed his face
Then he closed his eyes, and I watched him slip away
Seems like only yesterday, he was young as I am now
But soon now will be the past, yeah, time is turning fast"
I am reminded of Shakespeare's "The Tempest." Prospero says "We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep." Little Big Town compares our brief lives to "fire and paper." "Never too much and never enough!"
7 THAT'S WHERE I'LL BE has geography. We visit the Arizona Plains, the Mississippi River, the land of hurricanes, the hills of Tennessee and Cisco Beach. Cisco Beach is on Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. More importantly, this song is about a man's need for a woman and the extent to which he will go to be with her. Jimi does the lead, and he must be thinking of Karen. If I had a woman like her, I would do what it takes to bridge the great divide! Jimi has seen the lonely side, and he knows Karen's worth cannot be measured. She is salvation! This makes me think of my own song called "A Man Needs A Woman." Without a woman, a man is only drifting, a heart without a home. This is the kind of devotion a woman wants and the kind that will keep her. Little Big Town wrote this with Wayne Kirkpatrick.
8 GOOD PEOPLE - My second favorite from Pain Killer! Kimberly got a strong one here, and she delivers it in a spunky, sexy style. It is the law of attraction. Good people attract good people. Jimi joked that Kimberly likes handcuffs.
9 NOVOCAINE- This was the first to rope me in at youtube. They performed it at the Grand Ole Opry. "Make you numb to the pain."
10 SOBER - A song called "Sober" would normally be about sobering up. Not this one! Kimberly wants to die drunk on love! What a chorus!
11 SHUT UP TRAIN - It made me think of my mother after she left Aiken Road. She hated trains, and so do I. Fairchild sings the lead in an exceptional black & white video.
12 LITTLE WHITE CHURCH - In the video, Fairchild struts out of the house, her dominatrix side showing itself! The others are waiting on the bridge. Karen has an intensity about her that makes her the leader. Does she cock her eyebrow when she sings "free?" Suddenly, the four are on the bandstand. "No more chicken and gravy!" The groom fails to show.
13 DAY DRINKING - Country music hit a period when almost every song on the charts had drinking in it. LBT fell in line, and their song has a catchy melody while showcasing Fairchild's "tough" voice. The whistling sets it apart. I quit drinking but sing this song karaoke. Fairchild is ready to drink and unwilling to wait for a happy hour or a fireworks show. She does not want to wait for Friday or til the sun is sinking. "Sinking, thinking and drinking" are strong rhymes. There might be guilt associated with day drinking because Karen blames it on the workday, the heat wave and the "tick-tock" moving too slow. This is a summer song as the sunshine, heat wave and fireworks remind us.
14 QUIT BREAKING UP WITH ME - "You say it's over with middle finger" and "shit shit shit" would never have popped up in an old country song or even on an earlier LBT album. Pain Killer is aggressive! It has to be if LBT is going to compete at its present level. The song starts and ends with 7 "forevers," and he is sorry for the 400th time!
15 STAY ALL NIGHT - A duet between Jimi and Phillip. Phillip sets it up, and Jimi explodes! It is a thing of wanting the good times to last! They are singing about themselves.
"We're burnin' rubber late for the load-in
Rollin' through the radio, passin' the time
Just enough gas to get there
Say a prayer. Lord, let this old Ford fly
It ain't the fame, the money game
Gettin' your name on the big marquee
It's all about the song
Makin' your heart thump, feet stomp
The way it's supposed to be
It's good to finally be feelin' right"
16 TURN THE LIGHTS ON - Sucker punched and paralyzed! Turn the lights on, Jim! Lift your hands up! This song has healing qualities! The long intro builds anticipation, then LBT cuts loose. Guitarist Johnny Duke brings a lot to the music.
17 FASTER GUN - Captivating harmony! Her love is a wild west movie, and he hopes she finds a faster gun. She will get hers! Gun imagery: "another bullet in the chamber, "trigger," "the hammer drops, "draw quickly," "aim is deadly," "cold steel," "gunpowder kiss," "shoot you down." Jesse James gets into it.
18 A PLACE TO LAND is catchy with the tempo I love. Kimberly does the vocal. There is something tempting about being in over our heads, getting burned, drawing lines and crossing them, speeding up when we should slow down, stepping in it and always thinking it's gonna be forever. It comes with being a songwriter.
19 NIGHT OWL is track #11 on the Tornado album. It is a duet but features all 4 singers. The man wanders back home to his woman, and we journey with him past skyways and steeples, county lines and water towers, rolling fields and pastures, through lonely and deserted streets. It turns darker, and stars begin to fall. His night owl is waiting, praying for his bright headlights. "Night Owl" is a pretty song, and Kimberly has a beautiful voice. The background vocals are a hooting owl.
20 WOUNDED - LBT is a hard working group! It seems every day I find something new from them on youtube. Dominant Karen and submissive Kimberly are music's most dynamic one-two punch since Swedish Agnetha and Norwegian Frida. "Battered and broken and bruised," "tore up inside over you." Kimberly has the traditional country voice. Karen's is tougher. The women complement each other.
21 MEAN STREAK - Although Fairchild gets the hits, Schlapman has her share of great songs. Little Big Town albums run deep, and "Mean Streak" is an interesting cut from The Road to Here. I wonder why the woman stays with this man. Maybe it is because women love guys who abuse them as long as it does not get out of hand. Women can enjoy playing the victim! Kimberly looks and sounds like Dolly Parton and names her as an influence. "Mean Streak" has haunting harmony. The dude is cold as concrete, tough as a back street, rough as a dry creek, sharp as a hawk's beak, fast as a stampede, hard as an oak tree, mad as a queen bee, hot as Mojave, tight as a kite string, bad as a black sheep. How can she put up with him? Kimberly is adorable! I love those shapely calves!
22 SELF MADE is about survival. Karen and Jimi take the lead. Karen said their harmony is the real lead singer. "Who you are is who you trust" makes this a song I can identify with. We think of ourselves as survivors although, ultimately, none of us are. Nothing comes easy in Nashville, and I had better come through even when I am down. Yes, it is hard to believe the life I created!
23 BOONDOCKS - Country themes pervade. They really did grow up in the sticks. They sing of gravel roads, tin roofs, creeks, muddy water, trucks, tractors, pastures, bulls, cows, deer, possums, hawks, queen bees, crickets, copperheads, the moon and stars.
24 BONES - It starts with "What goes around, comes around," and I hear uncle James. There is some finger pointing. A technique they use at the end of certain songs is to return to the opening lines. "Bones" is different from what Little Big Town normally does. There is a gothic flavor, something like we might find in New Orleans, voodoo and all that. There are ghosts and demons! There are sins and a wicked moon. Someone is going to get what he deserves. Night brings retribution, the time when reason gives way to superstition.
25 TUMBLE AND FALL - Written by Karen, Kimberly and Lori McKenna, this formulaic lyric tells "what it is:" a long talk, a reach out, a white flag, a forfeit of the game, a staying in the ring.
26 LEAVING IN YOUR EYES - The lyrics are a bit abstract and mysterious, but there is a good beat and a nice atmosphere, especially when Jimi sings, "No sign of life or anything."
27 LOOKING FOR A REASON has Karen in the lead. She is Little Big Town's power singer, and the one who had to step up if the group was going to experience the meteoric rise following the Tornado album. Karen divorced her first husband to marry Jimi. "Looking For A Reason" says it all. The lady takes no crap! Country music is in its dominatrix era, and Fairchild fits the bill. She can be willful and demanding. "You better do it now!"
28 SOMEWHERE FAR AWAY is a "leaving song." She is leaving Abilene on her way to New Orleans, too tired to get a job. The musical interlude is otherworldly.
29 THINGS YOU DON'T THINK ABOUT - Am intense track, and Fairchild is up for it! She built his fantasy. Natalie Hemby is one of their favorite co-writers.
30 PAIN KILLER - The title track from the 6th album and second with producer Jay Joyce. The two album with Joyce made LBT superstars. They became members of the Grand Ole Opry. Fairchild tells us what she does not need: whiskey, prescription, pills, smokin', therapy, doctor, nurse. Her man is her pain killer. He is the hair of the dog, her midnight thriller.
31 YOU CAN'T HAVE EVERYTHING sets a perfect country scene: wildflowers, a willow tree and a driveway leading to a dream house. The only thing missing is love. Kimberly sings this traditional country tear jerker. We know a marriage is in trouble when lonely halls "weep."
32 YOUR SIDE OF THE BED is a duet. There are 3 things on Jimi's side of the bed: a picture of their wedding day, a clock that don't work and the Bible that his daddy gave. The picture and the clock tell us this relationship has stalled. It is stuck in the past. The Bible is history on a grand scale!
There are 2 things on Karen's side: a burned down candle flame (symbolizing their burned out love) and a letter Jimi started and couldn't finish. Someone's marriage is in trouble, no surprise since country music is often about divorce.
The song is full of questions. "How'd you get so far away? Aren't you even gonna make a sound? Are you lonely like I'm lonely? Are you still awake?" The couple no longer communicate, and he lies down quietly without reaching. When she prays, she prays for herself and him separately.
33 STILL - The perfect love song.
34 THE REASON WHY is the title track off the 4th album. It is an upbeat love song, and Jimi and Karen sang it to each other on The Late Late Show.
35 LIVE WITH LONESOME is wistful. Karen is a goddess! Jimi is a lucky guy!
36 FRONT PORCH THING - Front porches are still important to country people. "Strumming on my old six string!"
37 A THOUSAND YEARS has the most eerie harmony I ever heard. "Whatever the future holds, forever in your eyes."
38 SILVER AND GOLD - "On the other side of being used" makes me think of on the other side of 10/11. I do not have to stay down! Not sure what the scarecrow is doing here.
39 ON FIRE TONIGHT is a party song, a history makin' party!
40 A LITTLE MORE YOU - Come on, baby! Love is water. Dive on in! She has given a little bit. He wants a more. He will never get enough!
41 FINE LINE has lots of Cs at the beginning: "Completely complacent," "You consume," "I get crumbs," "Comfortably normal." The opening track from A Place To Land.
42 RUNAWAY TRAIN is about a guy who runs off to Las Vegas with the preacher's daughter. After gambling his money away, he and his "runaway baby" return home. The preacher cusses his soul in the name of the Lord.
43 WELCOME TO THE FAMILY introduces nightmare in-laws. Grandpa's the local sheriff. Uncle Bill's the undertaker. Cousin Jesse's just crazy. Momma's got a real bad temper, and daddy's got a shotgun. The nephew is a hunter!
44 LIVE FOREVER - A song about lasting love. Opposites are used. He is a thunderstorm. She is a roaring fire.
45 WHY OH WHY - Kimberly uses similes and metaphors to describe this troublemaker. "Stop drop and roll right in the flame!" The bridge is outstanding.
46 EVERYTHING CHANGES - "Everything Changes" is a single from their first CD in 2002. I never heard of them back them. The song is self-explanatory. Time flies, and love slips away. It is sad how pictures of people outlast people. In the video, they frolic on a beach. The sand and waves symbolize constant change. The girls are young and pretty.
47 PAVEMENT ENDS is the first track on the Tornado album. Jimi wanted it that way. They opened their concert at the Ryman with it.
48 BRING IT ON HOME went to number 4 on the country singles charts. Phillip does the lead. It has The Eagles written all over it.
49 FIREBIRD FLY - A waitress takes off in a guy's car while he goes in to pay for gas. Male-bashing has been a theme in modern country music, and the LBT ladies get their licks in.
50 SAVE YOUR SIN - Kimberly morphs into a power singer while chastising someone trying to confess his wrongs. She does not want to hear it. She is not his mamma or his priest. She is not whiskey or a shot of novacaine. She is not holy water or cleansing rain. Kimbo is seductive when she moves those legs!
51 ALL THE WAY DOWN is obviously about making love. Hard to be any more explicit!
52 I'M WITH THE BAND - They go to Memphis and New Orleans.
53 CAN'T GO BACK - This song is special to them. It is about living in the moment and the difficulty of doing so.
54 GOOD LORD WILLING - From making mischief on Chigger Hill and cuddling up with Audra Mae, he runs from flashing blue lights and a red-faced boy friend.
55 ONLY WHAT YOU MAKE OF IT is a life lesson. LBT's songs are different from Shania's. They are different in substance and tone. They are deeper.
56 DON'T WASTE MY TIME is an early video. Kimberly has long hair. Phillip looks like a kid. These people are tight. Playing for keeps. Falling in deep. Nashville's ABBA!
57 PONTIAC - "Another long, lonely night." "Lies as big as a Pontiac, no more hanging on to what will never be."
58 RAIN ON A TIN ROOF - A water song! Not only is her love like rain on a tin roof, but her eyes are like the ocean and her heart is a river. He is thankful for every drop from this summertime storm.
59 LEAN INTO IT - When the wind blows in our faces, we must lean into it. This is not where we are going to fall.
60 NEVER FELT LOVE - It is not that he never felt love but that he never felt love that feels so right.
61 TRYIN - People come to Nashville from all over the country with the dream of "making it."
62 FURY - This is the lady in "Tornado." Sounds like The Eagles.
63 ALL OVER AGAIN - Let's play that old song and fall in love again!
64 LOST - This is about Kimberly's first husband, who died of a heart attack. "Canyon of loneliness," "waterfall of tears."
65 LIFE IN A NORTHERN TOWN - The words do not make sense, but "hey, ah, ma, ma, ma, hey, ah Life in a northern town" sounds good.
66 LOVE PROFOUND - It is a question: "Isn't love profound?" No bounds, confounds, profound. The production brings it to life.
67 LIFE ROLLS ON is an affirmation of life. Sun, moon, tide and summer breeze.
68 STAY - There are two versions of "Stay." One is on the self-titled album. The other is on The Road To Here.
69 TO KNOW LOVE - Simple love song. There is moonlight and a star parade.
70 YOU'RE GONNA LOVE ME - She will both love and hate him.
71 FROM THIS DREAM - Must me nice to have a dream you do not want to wake up from.
72 FINE WITH ME - He wants to be with his girl, not the crowd.
73 EVANGELINE - Still another abused woman. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote an epic poem called Evangeline.
74 KISS GOODBYE is about losing something or someone.
Little Big Town has done a number of covers and put them on youtube. They call it "Scattered, Smothered & Covered." Among the covered songs are "Rolling In The Deep," "Grenade" & "Moves Like Jagger." They turned "The Chain" into a monster at the 2013 CMA Awards. Fleetwood Mac's rendition is timid by comparison. Jimi raged from the depths of his soul when he screamed, "If you don't love me now, you will never love me again!" Chills ran through me, something that has not happened since early rock n' roll. I like Little Big Town. I saw them at the Ryman and wanted to see them again. They exploded with the Tornado album! Part of the problem before was in the packaging. Titles on the CD cases were hard to read.
People compare them to The Eagles and Fleetwood Mac. In fact, LBT is better than both those groups. Every song on the 6 CDs is a gem. Great harmony and gorgeous women!
If ABBA were reincarnated as a country group, they would be Little Big Town. The blonde and the brunette! Phillip could pass for Benny Andersson's twin, and sultry Karen Fairchild is a super trouper, nailing blue notes at the end of every line.
They are a reservoir of talent. Their songs are melodic while having a beat. There is emotion and enthusiasm!
Relationships are at the heart of Little Big Town's catalog, both married and unmarried. Their songs are thoughtful and reflective.
I saw LBT at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, April 30, 2013. They were sensational! The 4 lined up: Jimi, Kimberly, Karen and Phillip. They filled the room with harmony, all singing at once. They used 3 musicians: lead guitar, bass and drums. The drums provided a big beat as the 4 prowled the stage. Kimberly was devastating in her skin tight pants and high heels. I made note of the way Karen's hair crossed above her right eye. She is fascinating! Jimi and Karen sang together on "Your Side Of The Bed." The crowd stood on its feet and went wild during "Pontoon," "Tornado" and "Boondocks." Karen wore her hat for "Pontoon." Kimberly wore her shades.
Little White Church
On Fire Tonight
Front Porch Thing
Your Side Of The Bed
Leaving In Your Eyes
Can't Go Back
Shut Up Train
I'm With The Band
Good As Gone
At the concert's end, they bowed in ABBA fashion. This was my first show at the Ryman since coming down from Louisville with my parents in 1961.
I saw Little Big Town again on February 1, 2014. They opened for Keith Urban at the Bridgestone Arena with a 12-song set. It was basically the Tornado album, although they started with "Little White Church" and ended with "Boondocks." Fairchild talked about how they used to play at 3rd & Lindsley. Kimberly teased the crowd about "motorboatin." I almost teared up when she sang "Sober."
The third time I saw Little Big Town was in Louisville at the Palace Theater on 4th Street. It was, March 13, 2015, and the place had changed since I saw movies there as a teenager. Anyway, this was the best concert I ever saw! I had a good seat, and there was not a boring moment! Chills and goose bumps! LBT's confidence has been high on the heels of Painkiller, and they performed music from their new CD.
Quit Breaking Up With Me
Turn The Lights On
Tumble And Fall
Save Your Sin
Stay All Night
"Little White Church" and "Boondocks" took on new energy!