Dynamo country duo Sugarland has always incorporated a hodgepodge of influences in their platinum-selling music, blending country with pop, rock and soul, and even going so far as to cover Beyonce and Pearl Jam. So it’s no surprise that when lead singer Jennifer Nettles stepped out on her own to make a solo album, she colored outside the country lines.
“I started writing for this project a few years ago, leaving myself open as a writer and not wanting to stagnate, not wanting to become a caricature of myself,” the singer told Slacker and other music industry friends at a recent party previewing her upcoming album. “I wanted to take the risk of recreation, and that’s what this record turned out to be.”
Teaming with famed rock producer Rick Rubin and recording at his Shangri-La Studios in Malibu, Calif., Jennifer didn’t have much of a rulebook to play by when it came to making the album. But she was adamant about one thing: keeping production to a minimum.
“Rick is wonderful at capturing the most live sound that we can,” explains the 38-year-old musician. “We have all this technology, but it’s a performing art that’s meant to be experienced live. And to capture that live performance sound is sometimes illusive, especially with technology now because you can auto-tune it to death.”
While its track list incorporates influences ranging from gospel to classic rock, the yet-to-be-titled album will most surely be embraced by country radio. In fact, its first single, “That Girl,” serves as a long-awaited response to country queen Dolly Parton’s iconic tune, “Jolene.”
“It’s the story of a woman who doesn’t realize that the person she’s just been with has somebody else,” says Nettles. “And then when she does, she calls her immediately and says, ‘Even though I had my eye on this guy, I don’t want to be that girl. I don’t want your man.’ Consequently, we’ve taken to calling it ‘The Ballad of Jolene.’”
Another song that will fit right in on country radio is one the lauded vocalist co-wrote with ‘80s and ‘90s pop legend, Richard Marx. “Know You Want to Know” is a toe-tapping tune that pokes fun of the magnification of celebrity through social media and tabloid journalism. (It’s certainly a far cry from “Hold On to the Nights” and “Right Here Waiting,” so Nettles jokes that Marx is quite proud of stepping outside the box himself, as well.) Other songs previewed at the party in Nashville included a soulful cover of Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock,” along with a few touching, powerful ballads written by Jennifer.
Jennifer Nettles’ “That Girl” is set to hit country radio on Aug. 19. There’s no word yet on a release date for the full album but in the meantime, check out Sugarland and other hits on Slacker’s New Country station.