Little Big Town, “The Breaker” (Capitol Nashville)
Nearly two decades into its career, Little Big Town is just now coming into its own.
It started with the Grammy-winning smash “Girl Crush,” a bold, unexpected take on jealousy by couching it in seemingly pro-lesbian language — something that would not ordinarily fly on country radio, much less dominate it. Well, Little Big Town took that rule-breaking success to heart, first with last year’s Pharrell-produced pop album “Wanderlust” and now for a return to country with “The Breaker.”
But this is a return on LBT’s own terms. The compressed vocal harmonies of “Drivin’ Around” make the band sound like Roxette. The opener, “Happy People,” sounds more like “Rumours”-era Fleetwood Mac than the bro country that currently fills country radio. And its lyrics are a surprisingly poignant prescription for happiness, co-penned by Lori McKenna, who also co-wrote “Girl Crush” and Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind.” “If you want to know the secret, can’t buy it, gotta make it,” they sing. “You ain’t ever gonna be it by taking someone else’s away.”
Could McKenna be going for three Grammys in a row for best country song with this? Sure, but she may have to duke it out with Taylor Swift, who wrote LBT’s current single, “Better Man.” The lovely lament about who we fall for has already topped the country charts thanks to Karen Fairchild’s gorgeous delivery of great lines like “You push my love away like it’s some kind of loaded gun.”
Of course, Little Big Town can write its own songs as well, like the shimmering country rock number “Night on Our Side,” crafted by the band’s Phillip Sweet and Jimi Westbrook. But when you have the pick of Nashville’s best collaborators for your project, it’s no wonder that Little Big Town makes the most of it.
GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday
Future, “Future” (A1/Freebandz/Epic)
It is no longer a surprise for artists to release surprise albums, as everyone from Bowie to Beyoncé has made shock-and-awe the new stock and trade. That also goes for Future, the Atlanta-born rapper famed for his antagonistic mind-set and molasses-and-whiskey flow. His 2016 epic “Evol” also dropped without warning, making its blunt, druggie texts that much starker for their startling sense of attack.
What is a genuine, eye-opening oddity, though, where “Future” is concerned, is that it contains zero duets, guests or outside rhymes.
The weight of his sardonic personality and the openness of “Future’s” tracks — done up by famed beat-makers and mix-masters such as Metro Boomin, DJ Khaled and Sizzle along with 808 Mafia members Southside and DY — allow the rapper to stand out lighter, brighter and tighter on the chemically induced love songs “Good Dope” and “Feds Did a Sweep.”
Future has made greater tracks and woven a Southern-accented singsongy tapestry through catchy melodies before, but never quite alone as this, in a culture of hip-hop that demands a party full of inappropriate guests.
A.D. AMOROSI, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Ed Sheeran, “Divide”
• Grandaddy, “Last Place”
• Sondre Lerche, “Pleasure”
• David Bazan, “Care”