Little Big Town's Karen Fairchild does two remarkable things during "Sugar Coat," the signature song on the quartet's new Nightfall album.

Lori McKenna helped write a lyric that is — simply put — what a Grammy sounds like. With careful ease, "Sugar Coat" describes a modern woman's experience in terms all but the thickest of heads can appreciate. "Why are we doing all of this?" Fairchild asks with great empathy. It's her (and Little Big Town's intentional production choices) that give this message front page billing.

"Sometimes I wish I liked drinking / Sometimes I wish I liked pills / Wish I could sleep with a stranger / But someone like me never will / Sometimes I hardly can stand it / I just smile with a lump in my throat / Sometimes I wish I could bear it / Didn't have to wear this sugar coat."

Fairchild, age 50, is more adept at describing the frustrations, emotions, angst, insecurities and joy of being a woman than any female artist aiming for mainstream country success today, but if she were a solo artist, she wouldn't stand a chance. This is what summaries of the women in country music conversation miss. It's not just females who are being boxed out — women over a certain age take the brunt of the snubbing. It's a heartbreaking truth because it's these women (successful mothers, friends, daughters and businesswomen) who have the life and songwriting experience to really say something in a way that matters, but doesn't divide, and they can do it with half as many words.

The band did it with "The Daughters." Fairchild's voice was heaviest in the harmonic mix that built "Girl Crush." "Questions" and "Next to You" are two new songs on Nightfall that find Fairchild adding a personal message without soapboxing.

WATCH: Little Big Town Reveal Their Favorite Songs From Nightfall

 

As the dominant lead voice, Fairchild thrives across this album because she has the support of her bandmates, and with great humility they all play vital roles. Husband Jimi Westbrook joins her for a duet during a Laurel Canyon-inspired ballad called "River of Stars" that could hang on a wall. Phillip Sweet and Kimberly Schlapman quite capably lead "Forever and a Night" (a Foy Vance co-write) and "Throw Your Love Away" (although it's at first difficult to reconcile her tone during a sultry arrangement with the heartbroken lyrics).

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Nightfall is a textured album that is every bit the cinematic experience the band promised. Lyrically they don't just ask questions, but draw conclusions that won't alienate. "Problem Child" gets lost after "Sugar Coat," but here Westbrook says what we're all thinking but never found words to say: We need to show more love and less skepticism to today's youth. That sensitivity is really the thread of this album, the group's ninth and first since The Breaker in 2017.

This all sounds so serious, though — while Nightfall isn't a "fun" album, it's not a sad listen, either. "Wine Beer Whiskey" is the perfect interruption — the pacing of this album is tremendous — and arguably the best single choice on the record, next to "Over Drinking." Mariachi horns open before Sweet and Westbrook lead an anthem that brings major "Pontoon" vibes without duplicating a thing from the band's past. It's a jam, right when the album needed one.

As a whole, Nightfall is a statement, right when country music needed one.

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