Little Big Town — “Pontoon”

Blake Boldt | June 25th, 2012

littlebigtownphotojamesminchinWritten by Barry Dean, Natalie Hemby, Luke Laird

Motorboatin’, anyone?

Little Big Town has emerged as the unlikely source for the season’s most devilishly catchy hook with the first single from their forthcoming studio album. The vocal quartet made a splash on this month’s CMT Music Awards with “Pontoon,” a slinky mid-tempo number that’s more seductive and celebratory than their biggest hits to date.

It’s a welcome return all around. Little Big Town tread water following the release of their last LP, 2010’s The Reason Why. After the success of Top Ten hit, “Little White Church,” a pair of subsequent ballads failed to light up radio playlists. Firmly established in the role as runners-up to Rascal Flatts in the vocal group categories, they didn’t even make the short list at last April’s Academy of Country Music Awards.

The tide might be turning with this latest release. “Pontoon,” which has zoomed up the iTunes singles chart, arrives soon after Little Big Town’s high-profile appearance on Lionel Richie’s country duets album, Tuskegee. Produced by Jay Joyce, the auteur of Eric Church’s Chief, “Pontoon” serves as a cagey decision by the foursome to tweak their distinctive sound. The group’s usual impulses—crisp harmonies, evocative songwriting, no-frills instrumentation—-are augmented by a distinctive and fresh production. “Pontoon” is layered with an ample vocal reverb, and the mysterious arrangement includes strong doses of organ and sitar.

Karen Fairchild, the de facto lead singer of Little Big Town, offers a confident, provocative vocal exercise; despite the song’s laidback vibe, she means serious business. Fairchild receives a relaxed and enticing harmony assist from her bandmates as they teach a short-and-sweet tutorial for their pitch-challenged peers. Joining in the party sounds like one part pleasure, one part trouble.

Though they often compose their own material, Little Big Town has reliably shown considerable smarts in their song selection. The lyrics of “Pontoon” scan like redneck poetry, with references to “makin’ waves and catchin’ rays” on a boat with aluminum sides and wood paneling. Not only does it serve as an advertisement for lake recreation, but it even offers a hint of product placement in the second verse with an ode to Coors Light: “Don’t drink it if the mountains aren’t blue.” All along the songs drops details that allow it to one-up the assembly line summer anthems that storm onto country radio at an alarming rate.

Given the early returns, “Pontoon” might prove to be a long overdue breakthrough for Little Big Town. It’s certainly a winning concoction for those who are immersed in the lazy playfulness of a hot July afternoon.

Thumbs Up

  1. Ben Foster
    June 25, 2012 at 11:49 am

    Didn’t like it at first, but it’s grown on me a bit. Nice review, Blake.

  2. Carrie
    June 25, 2012 at 2:28 pm

    I think what I enjoy the most about this song is that it captures that lazy-middle-of-July summer feeling so well.

    Hoping this can be a bona-fide breakout hit for them – they are definitely past due.

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