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The Road to Here ()

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Little Big Town has undergone adversity since its self-titled debut album, released by Sony's Monument Records, barely reached the country Top 40 in 2002 behind the chart singles "Don't Waste My Time" and "Everything Changes." For one thing, that sales performance was not enough to keep Monument from dropping the group. Then, group member Kimberly Roads' husband passed away, an event marked by the plaintive ballad "Lost." Two other members were divorced. No wonder, then, that it has taken them more than three years to bounce back with their second album, issued by the Nashville independent label Equity Music Group. Whether it's those troubles or just the passage of time, however, Little Big Town has improved significantly since that debut disc. Before, they seemed more an idea than a band -- two male and two female singer/songwriters whose style seemed as much influenced by '70s Southern California soft rock as by any country performers. That influence hasn't changed, really; you can't listen to "Bones," for example, without thinking of Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain." But the group's sound has become tighter, more focused, and more distinctive. Maybe it's experience, maybe it's the absence of the powers-that-were at Monument, and maybe it's the presence of co-producer, co-songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Wayne Kirkpatrick (the CCM artist who is the co-author of the Grammy-winning Eric Clapton hit "Change the World," among many other songs). Kirkpatrick has taken the group under his wing and overseen a record full of songs arranged to showcase the four lead vocalists in varying solos and harmony parts, backed up by roots-country instrumental tracks dominated by acoustic guitar, mandolin, and Dobro. The initial result was a Top 20 country hit with "Boondocks," which has something of a Montgomery Gentry feel to it. There's more of that sort of thing on the album, particularly in the songs written by the band with Kirkpatrick, but they still have a weakness for stringing clichés together ("This monkey on my back/Has stopped me in my tracks," goes a couplet in "Wounded"). The best songs are actually ones Kirkpatrick wrote with others and brought to the project, particularly "Live with Lonesome" and the novelty "Welcome to the Family." But even when the material is not top-drawer, the performances are, making this the album Little Big Town had in it and didn't manage to get out the first time around. ~ William Ruhlmann, Rovi Hide synopsis

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