The eighth album by Little Big Town comes so quickly on the heels of their last, 2016’s Wanderlust, that it feels like a bit of a course correction, and a reassurance to the Nashville fans that nurtured the Alabama country group since the early ‘00s.
That previous album was a marked shift for the quartet, an unapologetic pop record featuring production from The Neptunes and a little help from Justin Timberlake. The Breaker sets them back comfortably into the world of modern country, a place that avoids any concept of the future. The chief concerns of this record are embracing and appreciating the here and now while looking wistfully at the past.
That idea goes beyond just the lyrics. It’s baked right into the sound of every song. The group and producer Jay Joyce look back to country’s first brushes with a big crossover success in the ‘80s, when artists like Alabama, Dolly Parton and Eddie Rabbitt started aiming for arenas instead of the Grand Ole Opry. That’s the mood that Little Big Town seems to be going for in brash moments like the big shouted chorus that opens up “Drivin’ Around” and “Night On Our Side,” and it’s found all over “Rollin’,” a grinding rocker that slowly morphs into a gospel testimony.
The rest of The Breaker’s sound is rooted in modern times. In part that means some digital sweetening and editing (the stutter step vocal bit that cuts through the chorus of “Drivin’”). But mostly the album stays within the boundaries of what is currently driving the country marketplace: gently rootsy tunes that settle into fist-pumping grooves or hushed reverie. It’s a comfortable pocket for Little Big Town to be in, and they often sound great tucked into the warm glow of a song like “Free” or the weathered heartbreak of “When Someone Stops Loving You.”
For as much fun as Wanderlust often was, the sound of The Breaker is really the band’s wheelhouse. That’s why even those brassy moments that pop like pyrotechnics—the jump from the pleasant opening song “Happy People” to the in your face of “Night” was particularly jarring—aren’t hard to digest. The group quickly settles into the tried and true, and they sound great doing it.