By Jeffrey B. Remz, December 2005
he path to Little Big Town's sophomore album, "The Road to Here," was not exactly straightforward.
For starters, they did not have to worry very much about falling victim to the sophomore slump because the group's major label debut did not leave them much to live up to. Not only did the album not do very well, but it apparently was not what they wanted musically either.
That was not all the two male, two female quartet contended with.
Divorce struck the group with Karen Fairchild and Phillip Sweet splitting with their spouses.
And death also afflicted Little Big Town. Jimi Westbrook lost his father. And most tragically Kimberly Roads' husband, Steven, who was instrumental in getting the group going, died in April of a heart attack at 41.
Despite their woes, Little Big Town forged ahead to not only make an album that received positive reviews with a different sound than the debut, but they even have enjoyed a strong ride on the charts with the single, "Boondocks," on a new label, Clint Black's Equity.
"I think when we finished the last record and came out of that record deal, we weren't completely satisfied with the sound of the record," says Fairchild via cell phone from an arena in Richmond, Va., where they would open that night for Keith Urban. "We knew that part of it reflected us truly, but part of it didn't. We kind of got focused and said look what would we change? And how are we going to redefine the sound?...It wasn't exactly what we wanted. We need to dive in with someone who gets us and get it right. So we took off and got writing with our good friend (and album producer) Wayne Kirkpatrick."
Little Big Town's self-titled 2002 debut "wasn't an absolute true reflection of us," says Fairchild. "At the end of it, was that us? You can hear...pieces of it. I can see where they wanted to go or if they had this opportunity would they would evolve into. But things happen for a reason."
The problem with the 2002 debut was "we go into the studio, and we're a new artist on a big label. We're trying to voice our opinion, and you're trying to also listen to people that have a lot of knowledge in this business. There is no one to blame or nothing to blame. Things just happen. And bands evolve. I think through the whole process of these record deals, we've really been able to define who we are."
Westbrook says, "Things can sometimes be compromised...It was a little watered down."
The debut resulted in a few singles being released - "Don't Waste My Time" and "Everything Changes" - but neither exactly shot up the charts.
Kirkpatrick, best known for co-writing Eric Clapton's "Change the World," wrote the lead-off song on the debut, "Pontiac." He believed in LBT and paid for recording more music.
"It was kind of out of necessity," says Westbrook. "If we hadn't had Wayne Kirkpatrick, we wouldn't have been able to cut anything. We were really broke."
"Luckily, Equity formed their label, and they loved it (the album)," says Fairchild. "We were frightened at some point at not ever getting it out there."
Equity was formed by Black and music veterans after parting ways with RCA.
Westbrook says the new album "kind of evolved and came out as it supposed to. It was almost as if there was grouping of songs that came together at different times."
The album actually was about three years in the making. While the debut was too glossy, slick sounding and had pop overtones, "The Road to Here" is acoustic-based with lots of harmony singing and a much more country approach.
For Westbrook, the album reflects "a lot of things that we were going through and we were just expressing through the music. That's what I love about the record. It rally kind of tells the story of our journey, and it happened the way it supposed to."
"Boondocks," the hit single, was penned about three years ago, according to Westbrook. "That's what began this process," he says. "It started quite awhile back."
The song describes the small-town life, something the quartet can vouch for.
A funny thing happened on the way to recording "Boondocks."
"The first version of 'Boondocks' was actually 'Waiting for the Sun to Go Down,'" says Fairchild, referring to a line in their song "Bones." "When we wrote it, it just wasn't there. We kept looking at each other - the five us. The music is cool, (but) there's something not right. We kind of set it aside for a few days and then Wayne came back."
"We talked about writing a southern anthem, about where we are from, where we grew up...We set it aside, the melody and the music."
Kirkpatrick suggested the line "what about 'I'm born and raised in the boondocks'."
Westbrook says, "Then he sang it over that riff, and we were like 'that's it'."
The result was not only did LBT have "Boondocks" but also the song "Bones" about skeletons in the close. "We just wrote a completely different song," says Fairchild.