‘Nightfall’ is Little Big Town’s album of ‘peaceful’ social commentary in a divisive world
It was January 2019 when Little Big Town members Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook and Phillip Sweet hurriedly peeled themselves away from the recording studio. They were self-producing new music but took a break to shrug into their sequins and head to Nashville’s annual party for local Grammy nominees.
One year later, as stars began to hit the red carpet for last week’s 2020 local Grammy nominee event, Little Big Town was again missing in action. This time around, rather than recording the new slate of songs, the band was rehearsing to bring them to life on stage.
The theater at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center was dark. The Little Big Town singers stood between a backdrop depicting a galaxy of stars and a thin scrim, their outlines and the twinkling solar system the only forms visible on stage. The impact is multidimensional and otherworldly — much like the album they spent more than a year coaxing to life.
Little Big Town will release their new album "Nightfall" Jan. 17. (Photo: submitted)
“It feels so cinematic,” explained Sweet after rehearsal. He was perched on a stool in the dressing room beside a road case stacked with drink shakers and Solo cups. Westbrook situated himself on the couch a few feet away, and Fairchild and Schlapman were across the hall in a separate dressing room, getting their hair and makeup done for the Grammy party. It was a lull in the near-constant storm of preparation for an album release and tour launch.
“It’s not a rah-rah beer festival,” Sweet said of the tour, a statement also true of the group’s new album. “It just feels elegant and theatrical, more like art.”
Little Big Town's ninth studio album "Nightfall" will be available Jan. 17. (Photo: submitted)
Little Big Town’s ninth studio album, “Nightfall” — home to songs including “The Daughters,” “Sugar Coat” and “Over Drinking” — will be available Jan. 17. The band will launch its accompanying theater tour at New York City’s famed Carnegie Hall the day before. And the 62nd annual Grammy Awards, where Little Big Town picked up its 13th nomination (Best Country Duo/Group Performance for “The Daughters”), will air live from Staples Center in Los Angeles on Jan. 26 on CBS.
While members couldn’t remember how many nominations they have to their credit, they know they’ve won three trophies and that any recognition by the organization is an honor — especially for “The Daughters.”
When Fairchild co-wrote “The Daughters” with Sean McConnell and Ashley Ray, she told her bandmates she thought it was the best song she’d ever written. Lyrics include:
“And pose like a trophy on a shelf/ Dream for everyone but not yourself/ I’ve heard of God the son and God the father/ I’m still looking for a God for the daughters.”
The song was meant to make listeners think about the lopsided expectations placed on girls and women. However, some interpreted it as a slight against God — a reaction Fairchild never anticipated. The misunderstanding equated to a disastrous lack of support on country radio. But “The Daughters” still found its audience, and its Grammy nomination is proof.
“It really means a lot,” Fairchild said as the stylist curled her hair for the party. “‘The Daughters’ was an easy one for people to misunderstand. We see the mean tweets. I mean stuff like, ‘You’re trying to say there’s no God for the daughters.’ That’s not what we’re saying. My goal is, ‘Can we just not desire to misunderstand each other?’ People are scared of things that aren’t what they’re used to. But it’s OK. ‘The Daughters’ did exactly what it needed to do. It continues this conversation of inequality.”
“The Daughters” isn’t the only song on the album with a message.
Universal Music Group Nashville President Cindy Mabe said choosing music that matters is Little Big Town’s “super power.”
“Sometimes when you are chasing success it’s easy to forget why music is the universal healer and the most powerful force in the world, but I don’t think Little Big Town has ever forgotten that,” Mabe said. “They sing about what their hearts feel and their eyes see and what matters in the world at a time when artists aren’t doing that. Not only do their voices exude all the colors of the rainbow, but the songs they choose to sing and bring to the collective consciousness just feel like the truth.”
There are plenty of fun moments on “Nightfall,” but Little Big Town continues to be brave enough to make their lyrics matter. “Sugar Coat,” written by Josh Kerr, Jordyn Shellart and Lori McKenna, is about the toll trying to project perfection takes on a soul. Lyrics include:
“Sometimes I wish I liked drinking/ Sometimes I wish I liked pills/ Wish I could sleep with a stranger/ But someone like me never will.”
“Next to You,” penned by Hillary Reynolds, Michael Jade and Trevor Jarvis, is the song that triggered the making of “Nightfall.” The sparse, mature relationship ballad is the first song the group found that they didn’t write that they wanted to record. So, they did.
“It’s like what you feel when you’ve been in a long-time relationship and what you’d say when things get hard, but you really want to see it through and things are better when you’re together,” Fairchild explained.
“Questions,” which was nearly the title track for the album, is based on a list of questions that someone might ask their ex. Fairchild co-wrote the song with Jonathan Green and Sara Haze and asks, “Did you give her my old key? Am I anywhere in your memory?”
But “Problem Child,” which Westbrook sings, remains the song that takes the group’s breath away. Band members co-wrote it alongside Sean McConnell and Tofer Brown while they were on tour. It tenderly asks the question, “What’s your problem, child?”
“It just feels timely,” Westbrook said. “There’s so many people who feel like they’re on the outside and disenfranchised, and kids, especially. The whole issue with bullying and all, just all the stuff that our kids have to deal with now, that’s so much more than what we did. With social media, you never get a break from it.”
Schlapman dubbed “Problem Child” her favorite song on the album and said she continues to get chills every time Westbrook performs it.
“It hits me emotionally,” she said. “It makes me think of people, especially kids, who are out there suffering. They think they’re alone. They think nobody else is going through what they’re feeling. I pray this song is a gift and a sort of salvation to people because I feel like it can be a huge healer.”
Best Country Duo/Group Performance: Little Big Town – "The Daughters" Here Little Big Town performs during the 53rd Annual CMA Awards at Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. Nov. 13, 2019. (Photo: Larry McCormack / Tennessean.com)
Writing “Problem Child” left the group emotionally bereft, and they ripped out their mariachi-flavored “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” in minutes immediately after as a healing balm.
The album is a journey that follows the moon, which is how the second track — “Nightfall” — supplied the concept for the collection.
“I love dusk,” Fairchild said. “That’s my favorite time of day. Then the romantic things happen at night. The chaos, the crazy when we’d drink too much and we have a good time, happens at night. And then the loneliness for people and the questions and the self-reflection often comes at night.”
After exclaiming over the pretty shade of pink lipstick the makeup artist chose for her to wear for their evening celebrating the group’s Grammy nomination, Schlapman said she hoped that “Nightfall” could be the soundtrack to someone’s life.
“These are just songs that should be shared,” Fairchild added as she slid out of her makeup chair and went to get dressed. “We’re not curing cancer. Hopefully, we’re lifting someone’s spirits up, which is really important right now. It’s a very divisive world, and … it’s almost like our social commentary. But it’s peaceful, like this is what we wish for our friends and family.”
Little Big Town: Tour, album, Grammys
Little Big Town will launch its intimate nationwide theater tour Jan. 16 at Carnegie Hall in New York City, a performance that marks the renowned auditorium’s first country performance in seven years.
The group’s ninth studio album “Nightfall” will be available Jan. 17. The group’s new single “Over Drinking” is out now.
The 62nd Grammy Awards will air live from Los Angeles’ Staples Center at 7 p.m. Jan. 26 on CBS.
Reach Cindy Watts at 615-664-2227, [email protected] or on Twitter @CindyNWatts.
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