Review: Little Big Town Explore Contemplative Country on 'The Breaker'

Our take on crossover hitmakers' eighth LP

Read our review of Little Big Town's back-to-basics new eighth LP, 'The Breaker.'

Shortly after 2014's "Girl Crush" provided Little Big Town with their first taste of pop crossover stardom, the country group quietly released Wanderlust, a left-of-center Pharrell collaboration that drew from funk, R&B and dance music. Less than a year later, the vocal quartet is back with The Breaker, a back-to-basics country record that returns the spotlight to the group's unmatched ability to transform subtle Nashville lyricism into major pop drama – this time with no small assist from songwriters like Taylor Swift and industry scribes like Lori McKenna and Natalie Hemby.

Produced by Jay Joyce, who helmed 2014's Pain Killer, the group's Fleetwood Mac power harmonies return front and center, forming the emotional backbone of tearjerkers like "When Someone Stops Loving You" and "Better Man," the Hot Country chart-topping showcase for lead singer Karen Fairchild. Elsewhere, crisp drums, light acoustic instrumentation and subtle synths decorate understated highlights like "Happy People" and "Don't Die Young, Don't Get Old."

One of Little Big Town's greatest strengths has always been the ease in which their top-notch party records ("Pontoon," "Day Drinking") have coincided alongside heavier, adult-oriented ballads ("Your Side of the Bed," "Shut Up Train"). The group strives to walk that line once again this time around, but The Breaker is the group's first record since their rise to stardom in which downtempo, more contemplative material completely outweighs the muscular, radio fodder like "Night on Our Side" and "Drivin' Around," songs that feel too vague in their worry-free escapism to sound convincing. At the top of their game, Little Big Town are taking an unlikely path: respectable, mid-career album artist.