Two years after The Reason Why, Little Big Town returned in 2012 with Tornado, their fifth album and, justifiably, perhaps their poppiest yet. Capitalizing on the success of The Reason Why -- it topped the Billboard country charts and generated the gold hit single "Little White Church," a song that expertly spliced their down-home inclinations and passion for '70s SoCal soft rock -- Little Big Town open up their sound, once again emphasizing harmonies and melodies, encasing them in a sleek, gleaming production that pushes them ever closer to the mainstream. Some hints of purer country remain but they're slight -- apart from a fairly insistent celebration of backwoods living, the insistent two-step opener "Pavement Ends" and the tongue-in-cheek hoe-down of "Front Porch Thing" is pretty much all there is -- and the strange thing is, the harder country isn't really missed.
On their fifth album, Tornado, Little Big Town makes a shameless bid for the mainstream success that has unjustly eluded them for the better part of a decade. It seems to have worked: With “Pontoon,” the set’s ingratiating earworm of a lead single, the band is responsible for country radio’s inescapable summer anthem, which has even spawned its own “Call Me Maybe”-style karaoke video from a slew of country’s A-list stars. Since “Pontoon” isn’t even close to being the album’s catchiest, best-written, or most creatively produced track, Tornado has the potential to keep Little Big Town’s momentum going long after they’ve docked their motorboats at summer’s end.
The quartet Little Big Town hails from Homewood, Alabama, and their first hit was about living in the “Boondocks”. Sometimes it seems like they choose for singles their songs that seem to most directly tap into small-town/rural imagery. Past success with those singles might be why the first single from their fifth album, Tornado, is called “Pontoon” and—yes—is a straightforward chronicle of relaxing on a pontoon boat.
“Tornado” (Capitol Nashville) Precision has been Little Big Town’s hallmark: four singers preoccupied with harmony who see it as the highest achievement, over nuance and elegance and sometimes songcraft. It has been suffocating, this approach, especially as peer groups like Lady Antebellum found prettier — and more commercially successful — ways through similar thickets. Not that Little Big Town isn’t stubborn in places on “Tornado,” its fifth album.