by MIKE CHAIKEN
The party tunes like the opening song “Pontoon” and its immediate follow-up “Day Drinking” are fun and engaging.
But when country act Little Big Town slows things down and turns up the harmonies, that’s when you’re really drawn in.
The four member group–Karen Fairchild, Kimberly Schlapman, Phillip Sweet, and Jimi Westbrook—are able to wrap their voices around a harmony like a clean blanket pulled out warm and cozy from the dryer. As they blend their voices, you forget about your surroundings and melt into their stories.
The fact that their harmonies could be so precise in a wide open space like the Mohegan Sun Arena on Sunday, July 7 illustrates their abilities to work their magic as one entity on stage. I’ve heard some groups known for harmonies struggle to pull together on stage. But throughout the evening, I never heard any of the foursome hit a bum note or careen into each other’s way.
Some of my favorite moments on this Sunday night were from the group’s most recent recorded efforts. I adored the melancholic, and familiar, tale they shared in “When Someone Stops Loving You.” The poignant—and relevant — story in “Daughters” also tickled my ears and thrilled the women, in particular, in the audience. I also loved their rendition of their sweet 2015 hit “Girl Crush.”
I also was blown away by some of the songs they performed from other artists.
Little Big Town completely transformed “Wonderwall” by Oasis to the point that it took me until the chorus, “You’re my Wonderwall” to realize they were tackling that 1990s track. Thanks to their harmonic blend, the song transitioned from the accusatory tone of the original to a sighing resignation of a protagonist struggling to move on from a troubled relationship.
And in keeping with the ongoing renaissance of Elton John’s career thanks to the hi movie “Rocket Man,” Little Big Town’s cover of the song of the same name served a dual purpose. It reminded the audience at the Mohegan Sun of John’s genius in writing a melody.The cover also served to remind the crowd of how Little Big Town’s harmonies can make you reassess another artist’s creations.
As important as the music is for Little Big Town, the foursome has another trick up their sleeve. Onstage, they are congenial and engaging. Rather than a bunch of stars on-stage, miles above the crowd mentally and spiritually, Little Big Town made the show feel like a party on their back porch. The only thing missing was a cooler full of beer and some ribs, burgers and hot dogs on a grill. This was a gathering among friends– four hosts and several thousand guests– who jam-packed the Mohegan Sun Arena.
Opening for Little Big Town was another surprise for audiences. Ashley McBryde, although having earned scads of accolades, was a bit of an unknown quantity for some at the Mohegan. (I know she was for me) But from the moment her band kicked into the first few notes and McBryde (who won New Female Vocalist of the Year at the ACMs in 2018) let loose with her bluesy country voice, she drew the audience in. Forget for a moment how engaging her voice is, McBryde also is blessed with great songs. She wrote or co-wrote everything on her first album, “Girl Going Nowhere,” which was nominated for a Grammy for Best Country Album in 2019.
As Little Big Town noted when they acknowledged their talented opener, McBryde, unlike the title of her debut, is a girl going somewhere.
I give Little Big Town, 3 ½ out of 4 stars at the Mohegan Sun Arena on July 7.
PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN