September 2, 2008 / 4:17 PM / 10 years ago

Country group Little Big Town returns to majors

NASHVILLE (Billboard) - A year after country group Little Big Town released its third album through an indie label, it will be reissued — with four additional cuts and new artwork — by Capitol Records Nashville on October 14.

Members of country music band Little Big Town, Karen Fairchild (2nd L), Kimberly Roads (R), Jimi Westbrook (2nd R) and Phillip Sweet (L), pose for a picture in New York October 8, 2007.. REUTERS/Chip East

“A Place to Land,” which sold a disappointing 165,000 copies the first time out, will be treated “like a brand-new record,” says Mike Dungan, president/CEO of Capitol Nashville. “We couldn’t say, ‘Here’s a record that you’ve had out for a while. Now we’re going to put our name on it.”‘

The album marked the group’s second release for Nashville-based Equity Music Group after a short-lived deal with Mercury Nashville and an unsuccessful release on Sony Nashville’s Monument imprint. Its Equity debut, “The Road to Here,” released in 2005, became the band’s and the label’s first success, selling 1.2 million copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. It spawned two top 10 country airplay hits, “Boondocks” and “Bring It On Home.”

But two weeks after the November 7, 2007, release of its third record, Equity — which was founded by country star Clint Black, among others — announced that it had aligned itself with two investment groups. Equity president Mike Kraski, a former Sony Nashville executive who helped launch the label in 2003 and then signed Little Big Town, stepped down.

“There was a shifting of the wind and we were feeling it around the time we turned the album in,” the group’s Karen Fairchild recalls. “They were people that we didn’t have a relationship with,” she says of the new investors. “You start to feel uneasy in those circumstances. It’s fear of the unknown.”

When the group’s hand-picked single faltered at radio, its concerns deepened. “I’m With the Band” spent 21 weeks on the chart before peaking at No. 32 in late November. Still, the group was determined to see the album through. “As we saw the record go into the marketplace and not do as expected and really fly under the radar . . . that’s when we personally started to grieve the record,” Fairchild says.

“We were trying our best to do what we knew we needed to do to keep the music going,” her bandmate Jimi Westbrook says, citing live shows and appearances paid for by the band as examples.

But with “A Place to Land,” the band fulfilled its two-album deal with Equity. And when Equity launched, one of its selling points was that artists would own their own master recordings.

Eventually word filtered out that Little Big Town was a free agent. After an exclusive negotiating period expired, the band began talking to other labels and eventually signed with Capitol, whose roster includes Keith Urban and Dierks Bentley.

While the initial discussions focused on future music, the band welcomed Capitol’s interest in the two Equity albums. “They wanted their music to be at the place they call home,” Dungan says. All current and future Little Big Town releases will belong to the band and Capitol has an exclusive license to release them. “The Road to Here” will also be rereleased through Capitol but without new packaging or additional songs.


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