I’m still trying to figure out why this project even exists. Sugarland is one of the most popular acts in country music, and their last 2 albums, Love On The Inside and The Incredible Machine, have been outstanding. Jennifer Nettles with Kristian Bush have managed to get away with doing country music that’s heavily influenced by rock. Songs like “Love”, “Tonight”, and “All We Are” could easily have been recorded by U2. Country radio still accepts their music because of the heavy country twang in Nettles’ voice.
While they are a duo, Nettles does almost all the singing aside from the occasional verse from Bush. He mostly sticks to the guitar. So why the heck did Nettles think it was necessary to do a solo album? As far as we know, there wasn’t a breakup. Listening to the material on That Girl, she basically could have done all these tracks under the “Sugarland” name because she sticks to the same musical genre. Now she’s forced to make people realize who the heck Jennifer Nettles is. Once they figure it out, I don’t think people are going to be very impressed with what she brings to the table here.
Working with superstar producer Rick Rubin, she recorded these tracks in the studio with the musicians and you can hear the organic sound coming through. The problem is the tracks they are performing are all middling. It’s no fault of Jennifer’s vocals. She sounds as good as ever. She’s got some of the best pipes in the biz, but also has a real edge to her voice that sets her apart. Yet the tracks here don’t have much spark to them. There’s a blues element across the tracks (probably influenced by Adele’s 21) but it’s way too ballad heavy. None of those ballads reach the level of the classic Sugarland track, “Stay”.
Two of the best tracks, “That Girl” and “Jealousy”, are actually Jennifer taking on the role of the “other” woman. “Know You Wanna Know” playfully discusses the public’s obsession with a celebrity’s private life, but songs like “This One’s For You”, “Thank You”, “Me Without You”, and “Good Time To Cry” are completely lifeless.
The fun, the energy, and the uniqueness of Sugarland is missing here. Before people bother to figure out who that girl is, Jennifer should get back together with Kristian and do what they do best.