Little Big Town Preview 'Pain Killer' at Intimate Nashville Show - Rolling Stone
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Little Big Town Preview ‘Pain Killer’ at Intimate Nashville Show

Country quartet perform intoxicating new album in its entirety during special showcase

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Little Big Town's Jimi Westbrook, Kimberly Schlapman, Karen Fairchild and Phillip Sweet appear at the 2013 CMA Awards.

Frederick Breedon IV/FilmMagic

On October 21st, Little Big Town release their sixth studio album, the stirringly eclectic Pain Killer. Last night, with contest-winning fans, music-biz insiders and even the group’s children in attendance, the quartet re-created the LP live onstage during an intimate showcase at the War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville.

Performing the album in its entirety, the two-time CMA Vocal Group of the Year kicked off the set with the attitude-heavy “Quit Breaking Up With Me,” the sonic counterpart to Pain Killer‘s first single, “Day Drinking,” which followed. Through the record’s 13 tracks, Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook displayed the harmonies that have come to distinguish the band — and draw comparisons to them being “country’s Fleetwood Mac.” It’s not an outrageous analogy, as the chemistry between the four members — two of whom, Westbrook and Fairchild, are husband and wife — roils with sensuality, kinship and musical adventure.

While Pain Killer as a whole ranks as perhaps the best album the group has released, certain songs stood out in the live setting. Among them: the sing-along title track, which gave Fairchild the opportunity to prove why she is country’s sexiest singer; the brooding Wild West metaphor “Faster Gun,” Westbrook and Sweet’s testosterone tour-de-force; and the near epileptic “Turn the Lights On,” which, with its time changes and breathless chorus, kept Little Big Town on their toes.

Nothing, however, compared to “Girl Crush.” A sparse ballad of unrequited love, the song was written by Lori McKenna, Liz Rose and Hillary Lindsey, and turns the modern phrase of “girl crush” on its head. It takes a good minute of listening to realize exactly where the lyrics are headed, which seemed to delight Fairchild as she performed it last night.

“It’s so rare these days that you hear a turn on a hook and you go, ‘I did not see that coming,'” says Westbrook of “Girl Crush” during a recent conversation with Rolling Stone Country about the upcoming album.

“I think it’s a really fresh song and I’m so grateful we got to record it,” adds Fairchild, who says the band and producer Jay Joyce [Eric Church’s The Outsiders] looked to the Beatles and Motown for inspiration in Pain Killer‘s vocal arrangements.

“We have influences all over the map and I think you can hear those,” she says. “But we want to make our own way.”

Last night at the War Memorial, Little Big Town made the case that their “way” — all harmonies, spirit and the experience that comes from 15 years in Music City — has already been established.

The group performs tonight at the Grand Ole Opry.

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