Sugarland - Gold and Green
By: Matt Bjorke
Sugarland has become one of country music’s most popular acts on the charismatic vocals from Jennifer Nettles, strong songwriting and a gift for melody. With one goal, to release a live recording out of the way, Sugarland’s next goal was to release a collection of holiday themed songs and they have done that with Gold and Green, a record which features five new Christmas songs and five classics. The classics like “Winter Wonderland,” “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “Nuttin’ For Christmas” are injected with the duos infectious personality and charms while “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and “Silent Night” serve to showcase Nettles’ stellar vocals.
The ‘classics’ are given folksy, traditional melodies and while great, it is the new songs from the duo that truly show off the duo’s considerable talent. In fact, “City of Silver Dreams” could actually find itself a seminal holiday song like Joni Mitchell’s “River” as it tells a wonderfully soft and melodic story of New York City and the beauty of a new romance within the context of Christmas. Written with Lisa Carver and Ellis Paul, the song is not an outright Christmas song the way that we are used to and that’s too what made “River” a smartly written Christmas song. The bluesy gospel “Coming Home” is also not a ‘traditional’ Christmas –or country for that matter- song in that it finds Nettles channeling her inner diva as she sings a song complete with gospel chorus refrains and it really could’ve fit an Aretha Franklin record from the 1970s. It’s an instance where choosing to record something that’s not ‘country’ (save for Kristian Bush’s acoustic guitar/mandolin notes) comes across in a Christmas setting.
With stirring mandolins and violas, “Gold and Green” feels like what it is, a gloriously beautiful Christmas song about feeling safe and comfortable at home and with family at one of the most cheerful times of the year (even if the song is given a torch-y feel). Fans who liked Sugarland’s song “Love” will enjoy the similar vocal that Kristian Bush provides at the end of the song. There have been people who have said that Sugarland could really be called Jennifer Nettles & Sugarland or something but she has often said that Kristian is vital to the duos success, given his songwriting and on “Maybe Baby (New Year’s Day)” we get to finally hear him sing lead vocals on a song. The song, which the duo wrote with Troy Bieser, proves that Bush is more than capable of singing the lead vocals but why do that when you have somebody as good as Jennifer Nettles to do it? “Little Wood Guitar” is a little fun song in and of itself.
While there will be cynics that dislike Gold and Green because of some perceived ‘cash grab’ by the band and their Nashville label, it’s hard not to like the album for what it is, a fun holiday themed album that is more than just another rehashing of traditional Christmas favorites or a complete collection of newly written holiday themed songs. Instead, it’s the best of both worlds and it is sure to be spun at many of my Christmas functions in this year and many years to come.