With That Girl, Jennifer Nettles, best known as half of the Grammy-winning country duo Sugarland, releases her first solo record in years and gears up for a small-venue tour that includes a February 22 show at the Fox. The Atlanta native is eager to introduce the more personal songs on the album, produced by Def Jam founder Rick Rubin, who has worked with acts as disparate as the Beastie Boys, Adele, and Johnny Cash. Nettles fans can expect a more grown-up sound, with smatterings of country and gospel.
Among those enthusiasts is Eddie Owens, who has followed Nettles’s career since she first performed at Eddie’s Attic, the Decatur venue he owned for two decades. “There was always something different about Jenni, even at that first open mic,” he says. She is, he asserts, one of “those performing songwriters that take you with them on the story so that it becomes more than a listen—it becomes an experience.”
To craft the title track—a tune about back-alley trysts—Nettles enlisted the help of an old pal, Butch Walker. Former front man for Atlanta rockers the Marvelous 3, Walker has gone on to success as producer and songwriter for Pink, Train, and Fall Out Boy. He and Nettles ran in the same circles and played the same clubs back in the early 1990s. Or, as Nettles recalls in her online journal: “Driving vans, pulling our gear in trailers, and playing smoky bars for young music lovers who were hoping to find real lovers between their clove cigarettes and shots of Jaegermeister (Lord help us).”
This article originally appeared in our February 2014 issue under the headline “Sugar-Free.”