Sugarland vocalist and songwriter Jennifer Nettles released her debut solo album That Girl back in 2014. Released during a hiatus for Sugarland (which doesn’t seem to be coming to an end any time soon), the album topped the US Country charts and its title track proved to be a moderate hit on both the US Hot Country Songs and the US Country Airplay charts. Two years after the release of That Girl, Nettles is back with her second solo album Playing With Fire.
The album’s lead single is the beautiful and emotive Unlove You, her biggest solo single to date. The track is a luscious, yearning big ballad that showcases Nettle’s impressive pipes and sees her delivering one of her most nuanced vocals to date. It’s also one of the more restrained and controlled vocals that Nettles gives across the album.
The title track opens the album and it’s a roaring, foot-stomping opening to the set. Nettles’ voice soars to new highs on the chorus and it’s certainly a way to grab your attention. Musically it doesn’t sound like anything you’d hear on contemporary Country radio, instead opting to pay homage to tradition. It set the tone for an album that is sonically varied and a clear progression from That Girl.
Highlights on the record include the sing-a-long Hey Heartbreak, the introspective Stupid Girl, and the soulful Chaser (is that a Dolly Parton Jolene sample I hear on the intro?). The standout for me is Three Days in Bed, a guitar-led ballad that sees Nettles pulling her voice back and exploring what she can do without using her powerful belt.
Playing With Fire comes to a close with My House, a collaboration with Jennifer Lopez. The two ‘Jennys’ exchange lines about their differences before coming together for a chorus filled with solidarity and sisterhood. On paper the duet shouldn’t work but aside from a few cheesy lines, it’s actually pretty good. Lopez manages to hold her own vocally against Nettles too, which is perhaps the biggest surprise.
The chances are if you’re already a fan of Nettles then you’ll find much to enjoy here. Playing With Fire is a solid collection of songs but there’s a little too much in the way of filler. Poppier cuts such as Drunk in Heels may be fun but they don’t have the substance as Unlove You. For me Nettles soars when she hits the big ballads and thankfully there are enough of those present here.
Track Listing: 1. Playing With Fire 2. Unlove You 3. Hey Heartbreak 4. Drunk in Heels 5. Stupid Girl 6. Three Days in Bed 7. Sugar 8. Chaser 9. Starting Over 10. Salvation Works 11. Way Back Home 12. My House featuring Jennifer Lopez Record Company: UMO Release Date: 13th May 2016