On new CD, solo tour, Jennifer Nettles is finding a new, empowering voice
By Tricia Despres For Sun-Times Media March 6, 2014 2:48PM
♦ 8 p.m. March 12 at Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St., Chicago
♦ Tickets, $35-$55
Updated: April 8, 2014 6:13AM
On the final track of her first solo album, singer-songwriter Jennifer Nettles takes on the masculine Bob Seger classic “Like a Rock” with a tenacity and conviction seldom seen in the often sterile perfection of the current stable of female singers. And as the nearly 40-year-old finally reaches the climax of the song’s final note, it finally hits anyone who is truly listening: Nettles is telling her journey of rediscovery within the lyrics of a 1986 rock song.
“In many ways, it is my personal anthem,” Nettles says of the telling tune. “At the end of the song, it says, ‘I see myself again, like a rock.’ I love that phoenix, that love, that rebirth, that sheer resurrection demonstrated in that line. We all lead so many lives in the course of one’s lifetime. This is my new chapter of rebirth. This is my rise again from the ash. This is who I have been and this is still who I am.”
Coming into Chicago on March 12 on her solo “That Girl” tour (“If I wasn’t Southern and it wasn’t so damn cold with that lake-effect [snow], I could definitely see Chicago as an enticing Sister City”), the still-glowing mother of a 1-year-old boy sounds as confident as ever that she is exactly where she is meant to be. As half of the wildly popular country duo Sugarland, Nettles easily could have ridden off into the sunset with a slew of Grammys, Academy of Country Music Awards and Country Music Association Awards in tow.
But for Nettles, it was time for a sunrise. While no one might know exactly how long she held it in her heart that it was time to give her solo career a fighting chance, just one listen to her current “That Girl” album demonstrates that she had much more to say.
“This album was more of a Pandora’s box for me,” says Nettles, who is sharing the stage with the uber-talented Brandy Clark. “And now that the lid has been lifted, I’m realizing there is a lot more in there that I want to explore.”
With a hodgepodge of songs that effortlessly induce both laughter and tears from her loyal legion of fans, “That Girl” also brought together a number of fellow muses ready and willing to jump at the chance to work alongside Nettles.
“The first thing that hit me about Jennifer was how easy she is to be around,” recalls Chicago’s Richard Marx, who shares co-writing duties on “That Girl” track “Know You Wanna Know.” “The second thing that hit me was simply hearing THAT voice, in a living room with no microphone. In a word, it was stunning. We wrote a few songs over several weeks, laughed ourselves silly and forged a friendship I absolutely cherish.”
While Nettles says ‘“it’s fun and touching to see my fans supporting my past and present material,” make no mistake about it. She also can hear the doubters.
“Sometimes I hear them and they affect me, but mostly they just p--- me off,” she chuckles. “At the end of the day, what I want to do most is what I am doing — playing music that I feel connected with and feels like a part of me. This music shows my fans more of me as a writer and vocalist and allows me to evolve and grow. I always want to have something fresh to offer.”