Since their smoldering “Girl Crush” burned up the country charts (and headlines) a few years back, Nashville stalwarts Little Big Town have used their rich harmonies to probe uncomfortable feelings with tenderness. Now in their third decade as one of country’s leading vocal groups, Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet, and Jimi Westbrook have fine-tuned their approach to modern country music, producing songs that honor Nashville tradition while taking note of 21st-century realities.
Nightfall shines most brightly on the meticulously arranged, storytelling-forward vocal showcases that have become the foursome’s calling card. The spacious “The Daughters” turns the admonishment of Rachel Hollis’ best-selling self-help book Girl, Wash Your Face into a springboard for examining societal expectations on women, with Fairchild’s warm alto and a weepy slide guitar adding heft to its message of frustration and hope. “Sugar Coat” builds on this idea, with Fairchild singing with white-knuckle regret over about a life spent on the straight-and-narrow path. Meanwhile on the stark, longing “Forever and a Night,” Sweet pulls off a torrid vocal performance, the ghostly choir backing him adding a holy heft to his proclamations of love.
But it’s not all serious business. The stomping “Over Drinking” flips the idea of the barfly’s lament on its head, with Fairchild proclaiming herself free of an ex’s spell and hoisting a glass to her romantic freedom. “Wine, Beer, Whiskey” is a raucous, horn-assisted party, the four members saluting bar fixtures like “Jack” and “Tito” the way old friends might as last call hits. Nightfall finds Little Big Town in prime form, using harmonizing and honesty to get themselves through the high times and the low moments. B+