I happened to be at both of those packed country shows last year — the CMT Tour featuring Sugarland, and again, when Reba and Kelly brought the house down. Both shows were great, but I have to say the Sugarland concert was my favorite.
Sugarland, the Atlanta duo formed by Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, put on one heck of a show. Their energy level was through the roof and their connection to the audience was genuine. That probably comes from the years they were playing in small bars and honky tonks throughout the South. On top of all that, they were just plain fun — everything from Nettles’ over-the-top southern drawl to Bush’s crazed guitar. So, with that in mind, I was only too happy to check out their latest offering Love On the Inside. Released July 22, the new CD comes in two forms — a regular release and a deluxe fan edition. I opted for the fan edition, which has five extra songs (some of which were recorded during last year’s tour.)
So before I give you my spin, let me be straight up and tell you that the CD has already hit the number two spot on Billboard’s Top Current Album list and has become the number one debut country album of the year. So that tells you about sales.
Let me tell you about the album.
Love On the Inside is a compilation of songs written by Bush and Nettles along with some of their friends. It’s a hard album to peg because the songs are so different — you have everything from the opening number “All I Want To Do,” which is really a pretty rollicking pop song, to the dyed-in-the-wool traditional country of “The Last Country Song,” to the romantic “Fall Into Me.” Having said that, I have to say that there will be songs on this offering that you will either love or hate. If you are a hardcore country fan, you’re going to think the band has sold-out with “All I Want to Do.” If you are more of a crossover country fan, then you aren’t going to like some of the mandolin-laced tunes. But you are going to find something you like.
If I had not seen the band in action, I would probably have been turned off by “All I Want to Do.” But, having seen their quirky, funny side, it comes across as the two just having a little fun. So I’m okay with it. I do not like it at 4 a.m. It’s way too perky.
“The Very Last Country Song” pays tribute to the idea that if life were perfect, we wouldn’t need country music. It talks about change, loss and love – things that are pretty constant in our world. That’s probably why country music has been a constant.
“Take Me as I Am,” a song about a hotel maid who wants to be loved just for who she is, allows Nettles’ voice to soar. Nettles’ voice is an instrument all by itself. She can hit some smokey low notes, but when she opens it up it truly fills an arena — or in my case, my Honda as I’m driving down the road. There’s a purity to her voice. It speaks of home, heartbreak and salvation.
My favorite track on the record is “Fall Into Me.” The song is a love song, but it’s about the kind of love that makes you want to crawl into your lover’s skin and stay there until you know them from the inside out. (Not the crazy kind of take their skin off and wear it, but become so close you feel like you’re inside each other.) It talks about wanting to be the person to fill the void in the other, to be the person who you reach for first. It talks about forever and that can’t be too long.
The other really cool part of the fan pack is the inclusion of albums recorded during last year’s tour. One song in particular (a remake of an ‘80s hit) “Life in a Northern Town,” features all of the performers at the concert — Sugarland, Little Big Town and the new country heartthrob, Jake Owen. This track is totally out of keeping with the rest of the CD, but it’s a really, really good track. Check it out.