In their best songs, country band Little Big Town are Skynyrd-Allman Southern rockers who make the inexplicably self-defeating decision to use a slew of acoustic instruments and the smart decision to lay thrilling male-female California harmonies over the rock. Their slide riffs lash at you anyway, though unamplified. A track called “Bones” has a circular return-to-drone motion and a fine blast of vocal harmony, both right out of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” though nothing on The Road to Here matches the intensity of “The Chain” (or that of “Dreams” or “Gold Dust Woman”). And none of Little Big Town’s four vocalists have the vocal command of a Stevie Nicks. What Little Big Town do have are consistently good melodies and riffs (though there’s one truly terrible declaration of love and faithfulness that’s too blah even to luxuriate in its own sap: “When the morning comes I’m still going to be right here”; yeah, well good for you; Al Qaeda can say the same thing).
The words don’t tell you anything new: “It’s where I learned about Jesus and knowing where I stand” and “Daddy’s got a shotgun” and “How can I bear to wake up and you’re not there” and “On a lost highway I don’t know how I got where I am” (which is par for the course on lost highways but contradicts the blather about knowing where you stand). Also, whenever a country singer tells you, “I feel no shame/I’m proud of where I came from,” he’s lying. This insecurity and dishonesty are genre-wide, however; if that bothers you too much, you might as well not listen.
Disconcertingly, I find myself enjoying the heck (if not quite the hell) out of their lyrics anyway. Metaphors pile on metaphors, each one strained in itself but coming off powerful and hilarious when accompanied by the others. “Cold as a concrete, tough as a back street, like a fratboy in hell week, babe you got a mean streak.” “You plowed me like a tractor/And you used me up and put me out to pasture/And I’m left to eat your dust.” I also like how “I’m good” in “Good as Gone” has two meanings: I’m a good one, baby, and don’t you forget it, and I’m (as) good as gone. It could be a message to Sony, who dropped Little Big Town several years ago and now gets to watch them fly up the charts while indie label Equity harvests the lettuce. The band’s success is exciting, even if I sometimes mutter to myself, “Damn their lies.”