It takes the perfect storm to create a great album, and Little Big Town’s fifth studio album, Tornado, is tearing up the country charts. This talented, harmony-rich country quartet — consisting of Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook — has been a consistent force on the country and pop charts since its 2005 hit “Boondocks.” During summer 2012, the group’s single “Pontoon” was the laid-back embodiment of easy summer living.
The group’s most recent album represents a departure from the its past work as it collaborates for the first time with Jay Joyce, the innovative producer behind acts such as Eric Church and Cage the Elephant. Die-hard fans of Little Big Town need not worry, though. Tornado spins track after track of the group’s signature four-part harmonies and soaring solos, courtesy of vocalist Fairchild. The musical dynamic of Little Big Town has not changed drastically from its past albums, with country instruments such as acoustic guitar, mandolin and dobro supporting the twangy, infectious melodies.
Tornado leads off with the honky-tonk inspired, boot-stomping “Pavement Ends,” followed by the dog-days anthem “Pontoon.” Then the ladies of Little Big Town step into the spotlight with featured solos on tracks such as “Sober,” and the powerful title track “Tornado.” Even for those who don’t normally enjoy country music, “Tornado” is definitely worth a listen because, far from the adolescent whining of Taylor Swift or the heartsick crooning of Jennifer Nettles, “Tornado” is about a strong, self-assured woman. It is one of the most musically interesting songs of the new album because the combination of a heavy, menacing bass drum anchoring the tempo, the blues-inspired guitar and Fairchild’s deep alto creates a sound reminiscent of Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down.” Fairchild makes no apologies, instead warning the selfish men of her past: “I’m a tornado, and I’m coming after you.” On a side note, violent weather and revenge seem to have been adopted by the women of country music as themes of the year: Fairchild is a “Tornado” and whoever irritated Carrie Underwood is getting “Blown Away.”
Like the calm after a storm, the album draws to a close with such tracks as “Can’t Go Back” and “Night Owl,” both of which display the band’s softer side and silky smooth vocal harmonies. There’s plenty to appeal to any and all country fans: the patriotic “Self Made,” which praises all-American values such as hard work and tenacity; “Leavin in Your Eyes,” the lover’s lament that has always been a staple of country music albums; and finally funky tunes “On Fire Tonight” and “Tornado” will get you up out of your seat every time. Little Big Town’s fifth album continues the group’s spiral up the country music charts, and fans both new and old won’t be disappointed.