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Love on the Inside by Sugarland

Sugarland’s much-anticipated third album stumbles out of the gate. The opener “All I Want to Do,” has raced into the Top 5 riding a hook that runs off the track somewhere around the thousandth “Ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh.” The second song, “It Happens,” is saddled with a standard-issue premise (life is hectic!) and a chorus that requires lead singer Jennifer Nettles to spit out an awkward “Sh…” before the title phrase.

But once Jennifer and partner Kristian Bush hit their stride with the stirring “We Run,” they go barreling down the track and never look back. The remainder of the songs here represent the best of what contemporary country can be—musically modern but warm and organic; lyrically stark, clever, challenging and even daringly abstract by turns. By the end of the race (which comes significantly later on the 71-minute “Deluxe Fan Edition” of Love on the Inside, by the way), they’ve earned a spot in the winner’s circle.

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