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Sugarland's sound still catchy, but hard to define

By Christine Smey


Sugarland fans usually expect one thing from the country duo's albums: catchy, heartfelt songs packed with emotion delivered with the power of Jennifer Nettles' voice.  With that in mind, "The Incredible Machine" does deliver.  But the album begs one question; is Sugarland still a country band?


"The Incredible Machine," Sugarland's fifth album, is the country duo's interpretation of the human heart and its capacity to feel emotion.   Hearing this description, fans would come to expect Jennifer Nettles' and Kristian Bush's typical country music songs about home, family and love.  But Sugarland's country charm is difficult to find on this album, with most of the songs sounding more appropriate for the pop or alt-rock genres. 


The first few notes of the album are a powerful intro to "All We Are," where Nettles reminds us why her vocal talent has led the group to winning two Grammys and a combined eleven awards from the CMT, ACM and CMA Awards in their seven short years of existence.   "All We Are" is a definite concert-opener, proclaiming "Fire like lightening/ Burnin' up the night," and boasting a sing-along chorus.  The energy it exudes makes the song work well as the first track. 


The title track has a very simple melody, and it becomes forgettable compared to the rest of the album.  The biggest problem, however, is that "Incredible Machine" sounds more like an O.A.R. single than a country anthem.  "Stuck Like Glue" and "Every Girl Like Me" are two definite highlights of the album, showcasing the country-pop crossover style that Sugarland does so well.   Both songs feature Nettles rapping on the bridge, a risky move that pays off by adding to the already fun and catchy tunes but pushes the album even further from the country genre.  


If you're looking to hear an actual country song on the album, your best bet is "Little Miss," an upbeat song about not giving up on love.  And just when you might think there's hope for "The Incredible Machine" after all, the next track, "Find The Beat Again," sounds more like Fall Out Boy than Sugarland.  The last track, "Shine The Light," is reminiscent of "Stay," off of 2006's "Enjoy The Ride," but fails to rise to the bar that "Stay" has set for the duo.  


It's clear that Sugarland plans to use these songs to create a great concert experience that will have to be defined as a rock show.  Maybe they're still dwelling on their Bon Jovi "CMT Crossroads" collaboration?  Sugarland attempts to conquer three genres at once with "The Incredible Machine" when they should stick to the charismatic country music that they do best. 


The different hats the duo tries on in this album reflect an inability to grow inside the country genre, but the album still presents some great tracks.  At the end of the day, Sugarland will continue to be an incredible music-making machine. 

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