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Just like her Grammy-winning duo, Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles isn’t confined by genre boundaries. When writing for her upcoming solo album—which she began doing three years ago—the vocal powerhouse fused a melting pot of influences into her work. But the result is undoubtedly a project country radio will embrace.
“This record speaks a lot to my roots; there’s country, gospel, singer/songwriter and '70s influence,” Jennifer told Country Weekly and a small group of other music journalists at a recent party previewing the new album. “While I was leaving myself open, country radio is my home and is so good to me that I’m thrilled that it went this way. Not that I wouldn’t have been excited otherwise, I just wanted to honor what this new creative venture would be. But I’m not surprised it’s country with echoes of other influences in my musical past.”
The album’s first single is a nod to country music’s past. “That Girl,” co-written by Jennifer and longtime friend Butch Walker, is a song from the point of view of the “other woman” and name-checks the most famous fictional mistress in music.
“There’s a line in there that says, ‘He didn’t call for me, he didn’t say Jolene,’” the singer explains of the tune. “It’s the story of a woman who doesn’t realize that the person she’s just been with has somebody else. Then when she does, she calls her immediately and says, ‘I don’t want to be that girl. I don’t want your man.’ Hypothetically, what if this was the answer to [Dolly Parton’s] ‘Jolene’? What would her voice say? What was she like? It would be interesting to hear that side.”
Another standout track on the album showcases a different songwriting side to pop balladeer Richard Marx. The “Right Here Waiting” singer teamed with Jennifer on what she calls the album’s “barnburner,” a song called “Know You Want to Know.” The clever, up-tempo tune is about the absurdities of social media and dirt-digging journalism. Jennifer jokes that Richard is most pleased with the way the song turned out, since no one would ever guess he wrote it.
Other songs previewed at the small gathering in Nashville were a stripped-down cover of Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock,” a heartbreaking ballad called “Me Without You” and a touching tune, "Fallen," that Jennifer wrote solo while “very pregnant” with her now 7-month-old son, Magnus. The latter is a song that has other artistic counterparts, as the singer likens its making to a game of “musical telephone.” She was sent a photograph and was asked to use it as inspiration for a song. Then she sent the song to an artist who created a painting based on “Fallen.” The painter then sent her work to a fragrance creator, and the list of related projects goes on from there.
With all of the different themes and influences on the album, Jennifer explains that the one element that ties it all together is its organic sound. She credits legendary producer Rick Rubin with helping her achieve a raw feel to the music, as he strayed away from too many bells and whistles.
“It’s a performing art that’s meant to be experienced live,” Jennifer insists. “To capture that live performance sound is sometimes elusive, especially with technology now, because you can Pro Tools it and AutoTune it to death, and then you take the God right out of it.”
“That Girl” will hit country radio Aug. 19, with the full album’s release date not yet determined. As for the project’s title, Jennifer laughs that choosing it has been the hardest part, but she does have an idea.
“I’m in a real place of gratitude in my life, just having started a family, and then this record has been an enriching time in my life. I’m thinking the title might reflect that.”