Songwriters: Hillary Lindsey, Chris Tompkins, Luke Laird
Make up your mind, country radio. Do you like Little Big Town, or do you not like them? After enduring a dry spell of a few years, the country quartet staged a mini-comeback last year with their hit “Little White Church” and number-one album The Reason Why, only to miss the Top 40 with the album’s second and third singles.
Despite the waxing and waning of their commercial momentum, the quality of the group’s singles has remained consistent, whether they’re going for the rock-meets-bluegrass-meets-handclaps of “Little White Church,” or working the emotional, big-voiced power chorus of “Kiss Goodbye.” Their newest single “Shut Up Train” (which is actually not an answer song to “Hey, Soul Sister”) bears little resemblance to either. But in its own way, it practically upstages both, which is no mean feat.
“Shut Up Train” is a simple, raw, restrained affair, devoid of bombastic production and wild vocal theatrics. It’s not unheard of for a country song to find it’s brokenhearted narrator unable to sleep at night, but “Shut Up Train” brings a fresh and original hook as it spins the tale of a woman reminded of her deep hurt every time she is awakened from sleep by a passing train. Though the four band members rotate lead vocal duties, they often excel the greatest when Karen Fairchild steps into the frontwoman’s shoes as she does here. She eschews power notes in favor of a hushed performance, and thus connects with the tortured emotions on a deep level. As the song nears its end, she finally takes a deep heavy-hearted breath and concedes “You win.” In those two simple syllables, she injects such a deep emotional fatigue that it bears the mark of a true lyrical interpreter. “Shut Up Train” is a great song, but Fairchild gives an absolute knock-out of a performance that makes it truly stunning.
As expected, the harmony vocals of Jimi Westbrook, Phillip Sweet, and Kimberly Schlapman underscore Fairchild’s lead vocal, but they remain subdued enough to avoid sounding intrusive. Even the mid-point electric guitar solo manages to fit in snugly with the mood of the song. The pieces fit together so perfectly that “Shut Up Train” ends up a new peak for Little Big Town, not to mention one of the finest singles of 2011.
In a career already replete with distinctive and memorable singles, this just might be their best one yet.