It’s a daunting task to separate Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles from the bells and whistles of her platinum-selling pop-country band – the Journey-centric intros, the moist beatboxing, the reggae patois, the AutoTune, the Panic! at the Honky Tonk power-emo and everything else heard on their 2010 smash Incredible Machine – but producer Rick Rubin is the man to do it. Who better than the famed “reducer” who successfully stripped layers of studio gloss from country heroes like Johnny Cash and country dabblers like Neil Diamond alike?
Nettles’ voice is brassy enough for Broadway or vulnerable enough for college radio, depending on how she chooses to wield it; as a no-frills platform for those pipes, this solo debut satisfies. Rubin’s warm, naturalistic production supports Nettles through the dramatic ballad “Falling,” the Alabama Shake-y cover of Bob Seger’s “Like a Rock,” the reggae-tinged “Moneyball” (which calls to mind “The Times They Are a-Changin'” if it had the words “Facebook emoticon”), the Western-swing zoot-suit riot of “Know You Wanna Know,” the title track’s rustic mambo and more. With a whopping 10 different songwriting collaborators over 11 tracks, That Girl doesn’t have much of a through line. What it does have is plenty to love.