Little Big Town
About Little Big Town
During the 2010s, few country-pop groups were as big on either the country or pop side of things as Little Big Town. The band's reliance on sumptuous four-part harmonies and interwoven lead vocals -- Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet, and Jimi Westbrook alternated in the spotlight throughout their career -- helped evoke memories of Fleetwood Mac, a comparison the group would lean into once they began racking up hits on the country charts starting with 2010's "Little White Church." That was a downhome raver, but it was the breezy 2012 number one "Pontoon" that established their soft pop crossover potential, reaching 22 on the Top 40. Little Big Town achieved an across-the-boards smash with 2014's "Girl Crush," a dreamy slow dance number that climbed to 18 on the pop Top 40 and earned the band's second Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance. "Girl Crush" gave Little Big Town license to try whatever they wanted, an opportunity they seized in 2016 by working with hip-hop producer Pharrell Williams, but they often chose to stick to their strengths: supple melodies and soothing harmonies that kept them at the top of the charts into the 2020s.
At the core of Little Big Town lies the relationship between Kimberly Roads and Karen Fairchild, a pair of Georgia natives who befriended each other while attending Samford University. Soon, their friendship turned creative -- Fairchild had a previous track record singing in the Christian groups Truth and KarenLeigh -- and in 1998, the duo decided to head to Nashville to pursue a career in country music. Jimi Westbrook, a friend of Fairchild's husband, turned the duo into a trio and Phillip Sweet completed the lineup not much later.
Little Big Town sought a record contract in Nashville, eventually landing a deal with Mercury Nashville, but their work there never saw the light of day; they were dropped before any recording materialized. It was a setback, but the group filled the time singing support in the studio -- they appeared on Collin Raye's 2001 album Can't Back Down -- while working as writers behind the scenes. In 2002, they signed with Monument -- then riding high with the success of Dixie Chicks -- and released an eponymous album. Its singles, "Don't Waste My Time" and "Everything Changes," hovered around the lower reaches of the Hot Country Songs Top 40, a respectable start that was halted when Monument went under. Personally, their lives were in a state of upheaval, too, with Fairchild and Sweet divorcing their respective husbands that year.
Equity Music Group, a new imprint launched by Clint Black and associates, signed Little Big Town in 2005. In quick fashion, the group released "Boondocks," the single that finally gave them a Top Ten country hit. "Boondocks" reached number nine in January 2006, a few months after the release of its accompanying full-length LP, The Road to Here. "Bring It on Home," the record's second single, bettered its predecessor's chart position by peaking at four, with "Good as Gone" and "A Little More You" both reaching the Top 20 over the next year. A Place to Land, the group's second album for Equity, arrived in November 2007, accompanied by the single "I'm with the Band" which peaked at 32 on Billboard's country charts. The group left Equity for Capitol Nashville in April 2008; by the end of the year, Equity went out of business.
As Little Big Town prepped their first album for Capitol Nashville, they stayed in the spotlight through duets. They teamed with Jake Owen and Sugarland for a cover of "Life in a Northern Town" by the Dream Academy, a recording taken from Sugarland's 2007 tour that went to 28 on Country Airplay. Fairchild sang on John Mellencamp's 2008 album Life Death Love and Freedom, including the singles "A Ride Back Home" and "My Sweet Love." Capitol also reissued A Place to Land in October 2008, accompanied by the single "Fine Line," which peaked at 31.
The Reason Why, Little Big Town's debut for Capitol Nashville, appeared in August 2010, preceded by the Top Ten hit "Little White Church." Two subsequent singles -- "Kiss Goodbye" and "The Reason Why" -- failed to crack the Billboard Country Top 40, but they helped lay the groundwork for the group's 2012 breakthrough, the Jay Joyce-produced Tornado. "Pontoon," the album's breezy first single, became the group's first number one country single, with "Tornado" peaking at two on Country Airplay. "Pontoon" landed Little Big Town their first Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance in 2013. In the wake of Tornado, the group continued to sing on records by other artists, including an appearance on David Nail's I'm a Fire" and "Smokin' and Drinkin'," a single pulled from Miranda Lambert's Platinum.
"Day Drinking," the first single from their follow-up to Tornado, appeared in June 2014, working its way to number two Country Airplay that summer. Pain Killer, its accompanying full-length, appeared in October that year, with the single "Girl Crush" arriving that December. "Girl Crush" turned into a crossover smash, peaking at three Country Airplay and 18 on Billboard's Top 40, transforming Little Big Town into pop stars in the process. The hit led to five Country Music Awards nominations for the group and Pain Killer, along with two Grammy nominations; the group took home the trophy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance for "Girl Crush."
Little Big Town toured heavily on the back of "Girl Crush," then turned their attention to creating a pop album with the assistance of R&B/hip-hop producer Pharrell Williams. The resulting Wanderlust appeared in June 2016 and failed to generate any hit singles. The band swiftly followed it with the country single "Better Man," which was written by Taylor Swift. "Better Man" sailed to number one -- it'd eventually earn the group their third Grammy for Best Country Duo/Group Performance -- setting up the February 2017 release of its accompanying album The Breaker. A return to softly focused country-pop, The Breaker debuted at four on Billboard's Top 200 and at number one on its country charts, but its subsequent two singles -- "Happy People" and "When Someone Stops Loving You" -- peaked at 46 and 37 on Country Airplay, respectively.
The band's lone new music for 2018 was "Summer Fever," a non-LP single released in June; it peaked at 29 Country Airplay. In April 2019, Little Big Town released the ballad "The Daughters," which went to 29 on Billboard's Country chart without making it onto Country Airplay. It was the first single from Nightfall, the January 2020 album the group produced in conjunction with Daniel Tashian and Ian Fitchuk. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine