Little Big Town’s sweet four-part harmonies are the band’s most distinguishing characteristic, but too often The Reason Why finds the group striving for vocal democracy.
Almost every song on the group’s fourth album contains a swelling refrain that features all four bandmates lending voices to a thick pop-country chorus, somehow oblivious to the fact that these immensely talented singers sound best when they use their individual vocal instruments to complement each other—not when they blend those instruments into a wall of harmony that makes it difficult to hear or appreciate the character of each individual element.
Each of those individual elements is precious, but there is one that truly shines. Karen Fairchild should be Little Big Town’s focal point; her emotionally raw performance on the heartache ballad “Shut Up Train”—full of soul and augmented by harmony vocals that add color and depth to her masterful interpretation—is the album’s high-mark, and she blazes through the album’s rousing lead single (the funky romp “Little White Church”) with delightful attitude and sass, her musical cohorts playing a tasteful supporting role.
Elsewhere, the group’s vocal arrangements are overbearing and gimmicky. Too often, The Reason Why sounds like the soundtrack to a Broadway musical, the cast of characters trading off lead vocal duties within songs or washing each other out in climaxing floods of voices that are flawlessly performed but strangely theatrical.
The fact that Little Big Town can blend its voices more beautifully than any other band in country music doesn’t necessarily mean that it should do so with as much frequency as it does so here. These arrangements are breathtaking examples of harmony, but they seldom make a song better than it would be if one of the four singers had been given space to make it his or her own. In an effort to squeeze everyone around the mic, they’ve ended up with too much distance between the singers and their songs. Because of that, there’s too much distance between us and them.
Ballad “Kiss Goodbye” is built from truth and has a strong heart, but it loses the intimacy it creates in the verses when it erupts into an overcrowded chorus. Meanwhile, up-tempos “All The Way Down” and “Why Oh Why” are unable to muster much personality.
The Reason Why may be Little Big Town’s most focused, most consistent album to date, but the group has yet to determine how make the best use of its abundance of talent. The result is an album that’s blander and less entertaining than it should be.