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Sugarland

Bigger – 2018 (Big Machine Records and UMG Nashville)

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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CDs by Sugarland

Sugarland is back with "Bigger," its first studio album in nearly a decade. And its arrival says more about branding, than anything else. Although his voice is heard often enough on this album to make his presence felt, it's still difficult to get away from seeing Kristian Bush in the Oates to Hall or Ridgeley to Michael role in this duo. Jennifer Nettles is the act's primary focus. However, Nettles plays theaters on tour, while Sugarland fills stadiums, making it a commercial no-brainer.

Sonically, one song about says it all, "Still the Same." Sugarland is still the same pop duo masquerading as a country act. Ironically, the single "Babe" features one of its writers vocally, Taylor Swift, another artist that didn't take long to outgrow her country music roots. That track features big, metallic percussion and a guitar groove with instrumental similarities to Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'."

"Love Me Like I'm Leaving" features some prominent acoustic piano and steel guitar. It's the kind of dramatic song Reba sings so well. In fact, she probably would have done a better job on it. Even so, it's heartening to hear at least one distinctly country song out of 11. This song is followed by the acoustic "Tuesday's Broken," which - with its stripped-down arrangement - lets Nettles shine with a powerful lead vocal. The album ends with - surprisingly -- another acoustic-leaning song, "Not the Only." It's almost as though the album's production began big (with a song titled "Bigger") and then became smaller and more intimate at the end.

One other highlight is a surefire Mother's Day anthem called "Mother." It's a song certain to please everybody because everyone has a mom. It may be a little sappy, but it still works.

Although it's likely Nettles could have pulled off this album on her own, one must (possibly reluctantly) admit it's good to have the duo back together. This highlights suggest Sugarland has a great, pure country album in 'em, if they ever choose to trade sweet stuff for the strong stuff.