Little Big Town

The Breaker

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Rebounding from the Pharrell Williams-produced detour of 2016 -- the mini-LP Wanderlust, which seemed to be commercially abandoned as soon as it was released -- Little Big Town get back to basics on The Breaker, the de facto sequel to their 2014 blockbuster Pain Killer. That album was anchored on "Girl Crush," a smoldering slow-burner that crossed over into the pop charts because it sounded more Southern Californian than Southern, and the same could be said for The Breaker. Here, the quartet double down on soft rock and supple harmonies, sounding like a 21st century revival of Fleetwood Mac, albeit one without the roiling internal tension. Smoothness is a selling point with Little Big Town: their melodies slide, their harmonies glide, their music seems utterly at peace with the moment. Sometimes, the group kicks up the aggression -- "Drivin' Around" and "Rollin'," two songs that give away the game with their titles, feel designed to fill out arenas -- but for the most part, The Breaker shimmers sweetly, alternating between sculpted sweetness and folky introspection. Often, the latter trumps the former -- "Better Man," a song written by Taylor Swift that feels like a throwback to Fearless, exists in a middle ground between these two extremes -- but that's also the appeal of The Breaker: it's a confident pop record, one that celebrates sound as much as song. In some respects, Little Big Town no longer feel like a country band -- this, more than the blatant overtures of Wanderlust, seems like a bid for adult alternative airplay, simply because it sticks to the middle of the road -- but that's also their strength. Little Big Town cherish the gentler moments, and this ease with sensitivity turns The Breaker into something of a quiet triumph: it's intended as a balm, and it succeeds.

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