Little Big Town, Tornado, Capitol Nashville * * *
Little Big Town’s fifth album should finally be the one to catapult it to the top commercial ranks of country music, especially given the success of its first single, Pontoon, which has mmm-motorboated its way to becoming a smash summer anthem.
The first four tracks, which includes the earworm Pontoon, are so blatantly commercial, and the album is mastered so loudly (every nuance is squeezed out of the instrumental-vocal balance, the better to stand out on radio) that one could cry “sell-out.” But no quartet has worked harder, released better material or exhibited more intricate vocal harmonics and yet been so inadequately rewarded, so the power grab is forgivable.
That’s because, starting with the mournful Your Side of the Bed and through most of Tornado’s second half, Little Big Town, working with a new producer, begins to sound like itself again, delivering one thoughtful, beautifully sung tune after another. Examples include the tender Can’t Go Back and Night Owl, where the production takes a breather, the infectious pop-rockers Leavin’ in Your Eyes and Self Made and the title track, powered by a clever woman-scorned/storm metaphor.
Download: Self Made, Leavin’ in Your Eyes, Tornado.
Mark Knopfler, Privateering, Universal Import * * * 1/2
Mark Knopfler resurrects the hoary concept of the studio double album, something he has avoided while leading Dire Straits and in his six previous solo albums. Remarkably, Privateering, which takes its title from a British Naval term, flows as briskly as a taut single.
Credit a broad assortment of engaging musical styles, from folk to blues, rock to country, with nary a duff track among the 20. Knopfler’s guitar playing, both electric and acoustic, is more economical than it was 30-plus years ago. He leaves some of the showmanship to his fine current band, which might disappoint fans of Dire Straits’ sprawling guitar workouts like Telegraph Road and Sultans of Swing. But with Knopfler’s songwriting and his warmly weathered, conversational voice in peak condition, Privateering is one of the fall’s musical standouts.
Knopfler is on a North American arena tour with Bob Dylan. Alas, no dates yet in South Florida.
Download: Go, Love; Kingdom of Gold, Redbud Tree.
Various Artists, Just Tell Me That You Want Me: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac, Hear Music/Concord * * 1/2
Just Tell Me, produced by film director Wes Anderson’s musical associate Randall Poster and Gelya Robb, gathers 17 primarily indie rock acts for a go at selections from the 45-year Fleetwood Mac catalog.
But with 10 of 17 tracks centered on Stevie Nicks’ contributions, the tribute seems misnamed. Only one Christine McVie cover (two on the deluxe iTunes version) is a shame, especially since The New Pornographer’s bouncy, keyboard-driven take on McVie’s Think About Me is the disc’s highlight.
Marianne Faithfull’s world-weary reimagining of Nicks’ Angel adds an intriguing edge to the original, while newcomer Trixie Whitley merits attention for scorching her way through Peter Green’s percussive blues rocker Before the Beginning.