For anyone who has been following Jennifer Nettles since her pre-Sugarland — Jennifer Nettles Band and/or Soul Miner's Daughter — days, the notion of a new Nettles solo album was met with tentative excitement. Would the new album harken back to either of those older sounds — the acoustic folk duo of Soul Miner or the soulful rock of her band? Or maybe it would sound like a stripped-down version of Sugarland?
The answer is none of the above. That Girl lets Nettles, thanks to help from producer Rick Rubin, explore even more sides of her musical persona to varied results.
Nettles could sing the phone book and captivate an audience. Her vocals from start to finish on That Girl are exactly what you'd expect from someone who has such power, range and overall ability. It's only that the music hits and misses the mark as a backdrop for her talent.
"Falling" starts the album off strongly, though Nettles is nearly showing off at times and too much trilling doesn't work with the acoustic backdrop. "Moneyball" could easily be a Sugarland track with its country-pop inflections. The album's title track, co-written with Butch Walker, shows the most daring — and successful — effort with its tango elements and hints at the Jennifer Nettles Band of old.
"This Angel" is the album's required heartbreaker ballad, while "Jealousy" leans too far toward adult contemporary and "This One's For You," co-written by Sara Bareilles, is the required jazz standard. "Know You Wanna Know," co-written by Richard Marx, is one stand-up bass away from rockabilly. She even puts her own stamp on Bob Seger's "Like a Rock" — one of the album's highlights.
While the album does well to showcase variety, it falls short of the mark set by Sugarland and her previous projects. The greatest hint that this effort is a bit too self-indulgent is a press release written by Nettles herself, which states, "I hope everyone wants to buy it. I hope millions do. I hope it wins lots of awards, beau coupe hearts and tons of new fans."
When an artist starts worrying about awards and selling millions of records, they've usually lost focus and are too preoccupied on the business instead of the soul that draws people to an artist in the first place.