40 Best Country Albums of 2014

The greatest statements from the year's outsiders, small town heroes and American middle class

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Jennifer Nettles, 'That Girl'
40
25/40

25. Jennifer Nettles, 'That Girl'

Jennifer Nettles flexes her independent songwriting muscles without abandoning Sugarland fans in her first solo album released during the Grammy-winning duo's indefinite hiatus. The vocal powerhouse teamed with an eclectic mix of co-writers (including Butch Walker, Richard Marx and Sara Bareilles) for all but one of That Girl's tracks — a soaring cover of Bob Seger's "Like a Rock." With veteran boundary-pusher Rick Rubin producing, the album takes its share of risks; "Moneyball" dabbles in a little reggae, "Jealousy" dives into pop and R&B territory, and congas highlight the clever title track. But it's on hypnotizing ballads like "Falling" and "Me Without You" that the resplendent singer shows the most depth, capturing listeners in a well of emotion. B.D.

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