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CD review: Jennifer Nettles, ‘That Girl’

Jennifer Nettles

That Girl

* * * * 

Posted 2:29pm on Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014

As lead singer in the contemporary country duo Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles and partner Kristian Bush kept growing increasingly experimental over four albums.

For her first solo album, That Girl, Nettles takes a different tack, stripping her songs to their basics — both sonically and emotionally.

Nettles is blessed with a voice that features a wide range and a distinct, vinegary tone. But it’s her ability to connect with a song’s emotional content that makes her stand out most.

That Girl shows off that quality remarkably well, whether she’s singing an open-hearted ballad like This Angel, a playful yet meaningful bopper like Moneyball or a complicated confessional like the title cut.

Producer Rick Rubin balances spare acoustic arrangements with inventive rhythms and orchestrations.

Even the most dramatic moments shine because of a deft, light touch, from the Latin rhythms of Jealousy to the way horns come in on This One’s for You to how drums and strings are introduced in Me Without You.

That Girl is a 1970s-style creative statement, recalling classic Carole King and Linda Ronstadt rather than any of her country or pop contemporaries.

It’s a reminder of how powerful music can be when it comes from the heart — and tilts more toward talent than technology.

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