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Jennifer Nettles

That GIrl – 2014 (Universal Nashville)

Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh

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CDs by Jennifer Nettles

Fans tuning into Jennifer Nettles' solo debut "That Girl" expecting the same bouncy pop country she's become known for in Sugarland will be in for a big surprise. And while there will be some disappointed fans along the way, those with more open minds will find plenty to enjoy here.

Produced by Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash, Linkin Park, Adele), the record showcases a reinvented Nettles who, while maintaining her country roots on tracks like the honky tonk stomper Know You Wanna Know and the island influenced Moneyball, steps out into more unfamiliar ground, embracing singer-songwriter torch songs and soul-infused jams. It's a natural fit seeing as to how the artist shares songwriting credits on 10 of the 11 tracks, highlighting tales of heartbreak, broken relationships, motherhood and more.

The star here, as it should be, is Nettles' powerful and versatile voice. Rubin frames Nettles with diverse yet subtle arrangements that truly let her shine as she does on opener, Falling, where she lets it all hang out from the outset. The other bookend, a cover of Bob Seger's Like a Rock, boasts similar chops while Nettles soars over a soul-flavored composition rich with a bright horn section. Those soulful notes echo on Good Time to Cry as well, more swelling horns providing a sultry backdrop.

Another highlight is Nettles' ability to carry a track in more subtle ways as she does on songs like Me Without You and Thank You. The accompaniment is simple and sparse, and Nettles is careful not to oversing the lyric, letting the lyric shine as bright as her voice, keeping listeners engaged in the overall experience, a true sign of growth for the artist.

With "That Girl," Jennifer Nettles shows herself to be more than just a one-trick pony. Rather, she's a multifaceted artist with a flexible voice and a heartfelt and honest songwriting style. This will no doubt serve as a polarizing force for some Sugarland fans, but will go a long way toward garnering the artist some new fans as well.