I first noticed the country duo Sugarland not from hearing their music, but from reading about them. Whenever I came across interviews with Jennifer Nettles or Kristian Bush, I was really impressed with how they spoke about music. When they described whatever they were currently listening to, they had very intriguing choices, especially for performers in a genre that has a reputation of being restrictive and conservative. And I could tell that they weren’t just namedropping trendy acts to build their own credibility – they were talking about music that truly inspired or challenged them.
A few years ago I was on a very long airplane trip, and Sugarland’s album Live on the Inside was one of the choices on the inflight entertainment. I remember looking at the track listing and thinking to myself: “‘Better Man’? Is that Pearl Jam’s ‘Better Man’, or some other ‘Better Man’ I don’t know about? ‘Irreplaceable’ – is that the Beyoncé song? The B-52s’ ‘Love Shack‘? What kind of country band is this, anyway?” On that long flight I ended up listening to that album several times through. I was blown away not only by the audacity of the song choices, but also by the brilliant arrangements and musicianship. I also really liked the dynamic of a male-female musical duo in which both performers presented themselves as professional equals, rather than playing into boy-girl couple stereotypes.
After that live album, Sugarland released one more studio album, The Incredible Machine. The album was inspired by steampunk, and its production had the big confident glossy sheen that was everywhere on records in the 1970s. It was still technically a country record – at least that’s how it was marketed. But it felt like Nettles and Bush were trying to see just how many of the visual and musical styles that excited them could be crammed into one grand album. That epic effort may have worn them out, because they’re both off doing their own things now (but they haven’t written off the possibility of Sugarland doing more in the future).
My reason for introducing you to Sugarland, if you don’t know their work already, is to also introduce you to a song of theirs that I’ve been thinking about in these first chaotic weeks of 2016. With all the turmoil in the world, and all the losses of beloved artists – as one of my friends said, maybe we should just put a halt to 2016 and try starting it over again to see if things get better. So with that sentiment in mind, here’s Sugarland’s song “Love”. It’s a beautiful song with simple but profound lyrics, and I hope it gives you a bit of happiness and positivity during these difficult times.