Little Big Town scored big with its second album, 2005's The Road to Here, thanks to high charting singles like "Good as Gone." Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Roads Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook, and Phillip Sweet fused rootsy contemporary country with acoustic and electric instruments, and their vocal harmonies inspired by Fleetwood Mac proved irresistible. A Place to Land is superior to its predecessor in every way, though: production feels more organic, the music is more sophisticated, and the lyrics more poignant. Perhaps the real secret to the success of this quartet is its secret weapon in behind-the-boards fifth member Wayne Kirkpatrick, who serves as the band's producer and songwriting partner. He's chief guitar picker, and plays just about anything with strings, as well as the clavinet and B-3. If the sound on The Road to Here is reminiscent of Fleetwood Mac's glory years, A Place to Land drinks deeply from the well of the entire Southern California scene from the mid- to late '70s. It's not all regurgitation, either. Little Big Town's sound is rooted deeply in traditional, organic country music. Their songs meld seamlessly with the vocal harmonies that evoke vintage Crosby, Stills & Nash and the Eagles' earliest records.
While the album's opener, "Fine Line," literally rings with Lindsey Buckingham's chord progressions, choruses, and arranged vocals (à la "Go Your Own Way"), it's open rock & roll territory with one exception: the verse structure has enough hard country to rise above that influence. The musicians distinguish themselves a bit more on the album's road-weary first single, "I'm with the Band." Its beautifully paced B-3, electric guitars, big cracking drums, Dobro, banjos, and mandolin are woven into a beautiful road song. The Eagles get melody-checked in "That's Where I'll Be," but the harmonies here could only be better if Bernie Leadon and Timothy B. Schmit joined in for six-part harmony. The acoustic guitars rise and fall, keeping a steady rhythmic chatter that serves as a painterly backdrop for those gorgeous voices. There is a loneliness and conviction in the song that feels authentic. This band has another side as well, and it's brought out in spades with the spooky "Evangeline," a harrowing song about emotional abuse: "You don't have to be kicked to be bruised/And you don't have to be hit to be abused...." It's one woman talking to another, exhorting her to see what's happening at the hands of a sick, violent man. With its high lonesome guitars, a spidery Dobro, and muffled floor tom, it's as powerful in its way as Gretchen Wilson's "Independence Day." Those who thrive on love songs will find "To Know Love" irresistible. It's profound in its poetry and simplicity. "Novocaine," with its bluesed-out slide opening, explodes into a hand-clapping rocker. For all of LBT's appropriation of signature sounds from '70s L.A., their manner of employing them is, paradoxically, their trademark. There isn't another act out there on the road or in a studio today that sounds remotely like them. ~ Thom Jurek