June 4, 2018 Sugarland – Bigger (Album Review)
You do not dare entitle your album Bigger unless you are promising something bold! Doing just this, Country sweethearts Sugarland return this Friday, June 8, 2018, thanks to Big Machine Records, with, well, Bigger. It is sunshine in a bottle!
Country duo Sugarland know a little something about melody. Composed of key members Kristian Bush (Acoustic Guitar, Mandolin, Vocals) and Jennifer Nettles (Vocals), Sugarland was initially formed in 2002. At that time, they were actually a threesome – with Vocalist Kristen Hall – who would sign to Mercury Nashville in 2004 before releasing their debut, Twice the Speed of Life, that same year. By 2005, Hall would leave the group, but this would not slow the tag-team duo of Bush and Nettles. Their sophomore release, 2006’s Enjoy the Ride, exploded on Country radio, earning the pair a Grammy for the hit single “Stay” along with the award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal. ACM, CMA, and CMT awards would also follow. In fact, for Sugarland, life just keeps getting bigger, and albums like 2008’s Love on the Inside, 2009’s Gold and Green, and 2010’s The Incredible Machine have merely served to amplify the pair’s already stellar career.
In the interim of the past eight years, Sugarland have not exactly been silent. Jennifer Nettles has an impressive solo career, and has even made her acting debut, as well. For his part, Bush also has a wonderful solo recording career, and is a repeat participant in the Country Music Association’s Songwriters Series, which travels the U.S. and the world showcasing the talents of Nashville songwriters. Though, no matter how far apart they might roam, Bush and Nettles’ hearts will always return home – to Sugarland.
Thus it is that, back for more and proclaiming a brighter day, Sugarland return with Bigger. Produced by Bush and Nettles, along with Julian Raymond (Hank Williams Jr., Cheap Trick), the 11-song album sees Sugarland returning to once again put a smile onto the face of Country fans. Catchy yet emotive, sincere and addictive, all the hallmarks of the duo you love are here. Plus, is not happiness what truly makes life bigger?
“We were born for better days,” Nettles’ proclaims in the circling of the wagons that is lead-off track and album namesake, “Bigger.” Here, Sugarland make a generalized commentary on the depressing state of affairs in our world and agree that there is a definite need for an increase in better and happier things, and, well, bigger, brighter futures. Next, there is some funky bass work holding down the steady tap of “On a Roll,” although that bizarre speed-talkin’ Spoken Word bridge was maybe not a good way to maintain flow.
“Let Me Remind You” speaks the language of love with swooning guitars, Nettles’ gentle croon, and a glittery sway that will have you dancing in a tall-grass meadow in the summer sunshine. An ode to the woman that has no limits to her love, who embraces any challenge set before her, “Mother” is a warm and tender tribute to the women that do it all, every single day of the year. Somewhat similarly, unchanging, firm, triumphant love sits at the center “Still the Same,” and the gentle beat of “Lean It on Back” invites you to shake your hips, shuffle your feet and groove in your seat.
While quite a few of Sugarland’s contemporaries do not author their own material, this duo has always maintained stellar artistic integrity and drafted their own music. That is, until now, until “Babe.” Authored by Taylor Swift and Train’s Pat Monahan, the dangerously catchy break-up anthem sees Swift guest starring on background vocals. In fact, Nettles and Swift’s voices blend beautifully to create a track that is bolstered by the inclusion of the latter, and never once feels like “Taylor Swift featuring Sugarland.”
The beautifully sultry “Bird in a Cage” weaves a tale (not tail) of confinement and the need to fly free, while the guitars of “Love Me Like I’m Leaving” go for delicate twang as piano anchors the power-ballad, a plea to be appreciated before it is too late. Meanwhile, the acoustic-anchored ballad “Tuesday’s Broken” approaches the hot button issue of school shootings and sees beyond any sociopolitical commentary and goes instead for the human heart of the matter. Nettles’ emotional vocals soar as she sings of extending a loving hand to children in need, leaving it impossible to hear this song and remain dry-eyed. You will probably still be wiping tears from your face when they move into their album closer, the anthem for the lonely and the underdogs, “Not the Only,” a truly catchy clap-along.
Sugarland make Country anchored in the catchiness of Pop that just feels good. There is a warmth here that perpetuates a smile, the glowing inner-sunshine that allows one to dance in the rain on a blustery day. In fact, on Bigger, Sugarland deliver this characteristically tenderhearted, warm and glowing brand of down-home Country that has earned them so very many fans. Nettles’ voice shines, Bush’s guitars twinkle, and their harmonies remain some of the best in today’s Country scene. Sure, Bigger is not necessarily a larger sound, but it is a good, solid offering that will brighten quite a few summers. Isn’t that what spreading the love is all about? For these reasons, CrypticRock give Sugarland’s Bigger 4 of 5 stars.