Jennifer Nettles is ‘That Girl’

Even before topping the country charts as one-half of the duo Sugarland and winning the 2008 ACM and CMA Song of the Year Award, as well as that year’s country Grammy, for the ballad “Stay,” Jennifer Nettles was that girl.

Cutting her teeth on the local Georgia music scene, Nettles’ voice and personality has always been bigger than the country music box that inevitably came with performing in the genre. Die-hard fans remember New Year’s Eve shows at Atlanta’s Eddie’s Attic, Soul Miner’s Daughter shows in Statesboro and Jennifer Nettles Band rewinding at The Roxy in Atlanta, as well as Nettles’ lyrical grittiness and captivating stage presence.

While Sugarland seemed to soften some of Nettles’ edges, you only have to look back at 2010's Incredible Machine­­ to see that Nettles and company were being inspired and moved by music other than country. Enter That Girl, the first major-label solo album for Jennifer Nettles.

For the album’s flamenco-flavored lead single (and title track), Nettles teamed up with Atlanta-area native Butch Walker (Taylor Swift, P!nk). The result is a somewhat odd single choice but entirely catchy homage/response to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene,” whereas Nettles’ sings she doesn't want to be the other woman, or “that girl.”

So who is Jennifer Nettles and where do the tracks on her album put her in context of today’s musical landscape? Much like the Dixie Chicks, who were searching for their musical identity in 2006, Nettles turned to Rick Rubin to help flush all that out.

The result finds Nettles treading a thin line between folk-pop, country and adult-contemporary—which to some die-hard fans has proven to be a bit of a let-down.

The album kicks off with “Falling,” the best song about loss of innocence since Deana Carter slayed country radio with “Strawberry Wine.” With publicity performances of the track during album release week, this is guaranteed (rightfully so) to become a smash hit for Nettles.

Other album highlights? Nettles pens “This One’s For You” with Sara Bareilles. Its laid back, piano-driven tune sounds like a session extension of the latter’s “Manhattan.” Nettles’ also hits a high note with ballad “Me Without You,” although at times the song could benefit from a more restrained vocal.

Nettles knows her way around a ballad, but it’s the upbeat tracks where Nettles’ displays her tongue-in-cheek wit. On “Jealousy” Nettles sings ““I didn’t really mean to cause such an ugly scene / Showing up at your house, half-drunk and crazy / Bitch, I called you out,” and never has the little green monster been so much fun. Nettles also examines our current celebrity obsession on the Richard Marx assisted “Know You Wanna Know” and our nation’s fast-paced technological dependence on “Moneyball.” All three tracks shine, but after repeated listens.

The album’s one disappointment is the snoozer “Thank You.” Co-written with Little Big Town’s Philip Sweet, the track could’ve been included as a bonus track instead of “His Hands.”

“His Hands,” is a heartbreaking tale of domestic violence that begs for a video treatment and release to country radio.  It’s quite easily one of Nettles’ most convincing performances since “Stay,” and the best song on the album- the deluxe iTunes version, that is.

Some might claim that marriage and motherhood have softened Nettles, and, sure, gone are the “red starfish and blue lizard tails,” but what’s left is a mature woman who still has one of music’s most engaging voices. 


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