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The Music Scene

Posted: 1:45 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014

Concert review: Jennifer Nettles shows solo star power in Atlanta return 

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Robb D. Cohen/
Jennifer Nettles brought her solo songs to the Fox for the first time Saturday night.


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Robb D. Cohen/
The focus of the show was on Nettles' songs, not a massive production.
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Robb D. Cohen/
Nettles played guitar and piano on a few songs during the concert.
Brand Clark photo
Robb D. Cohen/
Opener Brandy Clark is a gem of a songwriter.

By Melissa Ruggieri

Leaving the security of a successful group is tricky enough when releasing a solo album.

Lay those new songs bare onstage with a new group of musicians playing them and the vulnerability quotient is exponentially magnified.

Jennifer Nettles’ task Saturday night at the Fox Theatre – a homecoming of sorts for the Douglas native who now lives in Nashville – was to make the songs on her gratifying solo debut, “That Girl,” as attractive to her longtime fans as the vast catalog of Sugarland hits that made her famous.

And no doubt, Nettles is a star. She’s got the casual-country-but-coolly-stylish look, the booming voice with a piercing twang and the “I see you, girlfriend!” type of personality that immediately connects her with fans.

Of course plenty of Sugarland fans also adore Kristian Bush, her partner in that group. But Nettles taps into a deeper fan base, a predominantly female one that hangs on her every syllable, swoons when she breaks into a melancholy ballad such as “Falling” (or pulls out a snippet of Barry Manilow’s “Weekend in New England”) and shrugs their shoulders in rhythm to the easy groove of “Jealousy.”

At Saturday’s show – essentially sold out except for a handful of scattered seats – Nettles kept the focus on her voice and the soul-pop songs on “That Girl,” kicking off the 90-minute concert with the appealingly languid title track.

Everything about her solo show contained an element of softness, from the lighting, which shaded the stage in “Wicked” green during “Moneyball,” to the satiny lilt of another well-chosen cover, Ambrosia’s “Biggest Part of Me,” complete with ‘70s-FM sax solo.

Many of Nettles’ new songs reside in mid-tempo land, so a portion of the concert, including the sweet ode to love songs, “This One’s for You,” on which Nettles played piano, the lovely “This Angel,” which featured her upper register, and “Good Time to Cry,” a song reminiscent of both the Eagles and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes, felt sluggishly paced.

Of course, at the first notes of any Sugarland song, whether it was “Baby Girl” early in the show or “All I Want to Do” later, the adoring crowd leapt to its feet to sing along, sparking some energy in the room.

Nettles surprised with an innovative rendition of Imagine Dragons’ “Demons.” With her band – including Atlantans Tim Smith on bass, who recently played during Bush’s Buckhead Theatre concert, and Scott Patton on guitar – huddled at the front of the stage and gathered around a mic, Nettles performed the song Mumford & Sons style, infusing it with a folk flair.

The start of “Demons” included a reminder that this tour is barely a week old when Nettles’ mic stopped working. But with dates set through April, there is plenty of time to fix the glitches.

There was nothing but unfettered joy filtering through the Fox by the time Nettles got to perhaps the best song on “That Girl,” the rollicking “Know You Wanna Know,” which perfectly showcases her sassy sense of humor. The song also allowed her to shimmy her hips and continue beaming at the fans, her job of asking them to accept her new material a success.

Opening for Nettles was the ever-impressive Brandy Clark.

An ace songwriter who, with the help of fellow scribe-now-in-the-spotlight Kacey Musgraves, penned Miranda Lambert’s “Mama’s Broken Heart” (and Musgraves’ inspiring “Follow Your Arrow”), Clark is a gem.

Armed with only an acoustic guitar, a heady twang and a lot of down-to-earth banter, Clark had the attentive crowd hooting and hollering when she introduced “Get High” (about exactly what it sounds like) and singing along to “Mama’s.”

Her warm, earthy voice and knack for storytelling fared strongest on “Better Dig Two,” the outstanding country hit she co-wrote for The Band Perry.

She might not have Nettles’ public prominence, but even among the plethora of Music Row talent, Clark excels.

Melissa Ruggieri

About Melissa Ruggieri

Atlanta Journal-Constitution staff writer Melissa Ruggieri covers music and entertainment news for Atlanta Music Scene blog on ajc.

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