Though vocal groups are a longstanding tradition in country music, the quartet Little Big Town have been compared to Fleetwood Mac just as often as they’ve been compared to the Oak Ridge Boys. That’s due in part to their mix of male and female voices, as well as the way they’ve largely favored folk-rock arrangements over honky-tonk and country shuffles.
On their 10th studio album Mr. Sun, the group of Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Jimi Westbrook, and Phillip Sweet lean fully into the softer side of Seventies pop, from Fleetwood Mac to ABBA, with a sizable dose of breezy yacht rock thrown in as well. It’s a great fit for them — pillowy harmonies and major-7th chords abound, adding a dreamy feel to songs like “All Summer,” which has the rosé-buzzed feeling that’s just begging for a tropical house remix at some point. They take it a step further in the funky “Song Back” and “Heaven Had a Dance Floor,” the latter of which sounds like Kylie Minogue fronting Haim.
Which is not to say that Mr. Sun is all, ahem, sunshine. Though the production frequently feels spacious and golden, there’s a strong undercurrent of sadness in many of these songs. “Hell Yeah” sounds like it should be a party tune, but instead it’s a treatise on suffering. “If you’re ever wondering, baby, if I’m still going through hell, yeah,” Sweet sings, giving it an air of tired resignation. Fairchild leads “Three Whiskeys and the Truth,” a song about rock-bottom heartbreak that’s marked by deep, reverb-heavy electric guitar.
Little Big Town have always excelled at depicting human, messy situations, from the jealousy of “Girl Crush” to the yearning in “Your Side of the Bed.” This time, they perfectly capture adult sadness and disappointment in “One More Song,” in which Fairchild and Westbrook (who are married in real life) play a couple who’ve decided to go their separate ways but still come together for one last night of intimacy.
At 16 tracks, the album starts to feel overlong in the second half, with tracks like “God Fearing Gypsies,” “Whiskey Colored Eyes,” and “Something Strong” sounding like things they’ve attempted with more success elsewhere. But the final track, “Friends of Mine,” is a Sweet-led number that nods to Joe Cocker’s take on “With a Little Help from My Friends,” with its gospel-style harmonies and pleas to “Take courage, friends of mine.” Like much of Mr. Sun, it feels like a warm embrace from a loved one.