Album Reviews

Jennifer Nettles

Playing With Fire

Artist:     Jennifer Nettles

Album:     Playing With Fire

Label:     Big Machine

Release Date:     05/13/2016


Many of us will miss the television show Nashville for any number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it made mainstream country palatable again. The characters may have been made up, but the songs were as authentic as you’d want them to be. It was a grand experiment in the ability to merge commercial country music with a sound that had both edge and emotion evoked openly, the weekly plot not withstanding.

Jennifer Nettles has trod that middle ground before, specifically, as the lead voice of Sugarland, a band that maintained country cred while still inserting an occasional insurgent attitude. In Nashville-speak, Nettles is part Raina James, part Juliet Barnes, a dichotomy borne out by the album art that shows the sweetly innocent Nettles chewing on a toothpick on the front cover and looking like a sexy vixen on the back. It’s later reflected in the music, finding Nettles emoting passionately and with more than a hint of sassy, saucy intensity on a song like “Playing With Fire” before turning tender and vulnerable with songs like “Unlove You,” “Way Back Home” and “Stupid Girl” the next. Elsewhere, she finds a safe middle ground, mixing desire and desperation through “Hey Heartbreak” and Holly Williams’ “Three Days In Bed,” the album’s sole non-original. The feisty “Sugar,” a self-deprecating “Drunk In Heels” and — again, to return to the Nashville analogy — an Exes-perfect “Chaser” help maintain that agreeable mainstream mix without conceding too much to either extreme. In short, Playing With Fire is the kind of album that likely won’t leave anyone feel like they’ve been burned.

– Lee Zimmerman

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