Sugarland, Live on the Inside

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August 27, 2009

SugarlandSugarland
Live On the Inside

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Sugarland has gone ahead and brought back the bootleg.

Their latest release is a CD and DVD combo that captures the essence of their live performances in two different ways. The DVD goes the conventional route, capturing one concert from start to finish in Lexington, Kentucky. The duo performs nearly all of their hits, and it’s a show with very little filler. They’ve had quite a few hits over the past few years, and they’ve held up well.

Sure, there are few of them that pack the punch of “Something More” or “Stay”, but they do their best to keep the older material fresh by updating the arrangements, and their unlimited and contagious enthusiasm for being on stage makes even the trite ones like “Settlin’” and “All I Want to Do” quite entertaining.

They make a darn good case for another Entertainer of the Year nomination. There are so few country artists who are able to radiate joy from the stage, and those that can do it end up with the audience in the palm of their hand, willing to do even ridiculous things like blow bubbles or sing a song about a drunk driving death in perfect unison.

Music is ridiculously accessible now that live concerts are often the only way for fans to truly get something special. Sugarland likes to throw in covers during their sets, and they include two by R.E.M. on the DVD: “The One I Love” and “Nightswimming.” These are definitely highlights of the filmed concert, and they also show up on the companion CD, which is anything but conventional.

The disc contains four Sugarland originals, but is dominated by the seven covers that are included. Along with the aforementioned R.E.M. tracks, the duo puts its own spin on a few classics and a pair of contemporary releases.  They do a blistering cover of Kings of Leon’s “Sex on Fire”, and their countrified take on Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable” is as fresh now as it was when it became a viral video hit a year ago.

But they reveal more of their roots and influences when they go back in time a little bit. Pearl Jam’s “Better Man” was one of their most significant songs, and it works very well as a stripped-down performance.  With all due respect to Edie Brickell, Jennifer Nettles sounds like she was born to sing “Circle”, with her raw voice cutting down to the bone of the cutting lyrics that Brickell sang with a distant coffeehouse hippie detachment.

When they break into the B-52′s classic “Love Shack”, knowing that the audience will be singing along with every song, they do so without a wink and a nod. These aren’t covers done with tongue firmly in cheek, like Nickel Creek’s take on “Toxic.” Nor is it an older act trying to find deeper significance in the work of current artists, like Johnny Cash’s work with Rick Rubin.

No, Sugarland likes these songs, thinks that they sound awesome live, and they just want to sing them for their fans, knowing that they’ll go along for the ride. As recently as five years ago, finding even one of these performances on anything but a bootleg would be highly unlikely. Now, in a day and age where everything that’s released legitimately will be bootlegged anyway, Sugarland is one of the first acts to realize that the real fan service is making the traditional bootlegs legitimately available.

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12 Comments

Category: Album Reviews

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  1. MarcNo Gravatar says:

    pearl jam is sacred territory… but i look forward to it… nightswimming will be interesting too.

  2. Leeann WardNo Gravatar says:

    They actually arrange the Pearl Jam song quite well. “Irreplaceable” continues to amuse me.

  3. BillyNo Gravatar says:

    I really like their cover of Sex On Fire. I like the original, but Jennifer could probably sing just about anything and make it sound like she was meant to do it.

  4. Canadian BoyNo Gravatar says:

    My favorite’s “The One I Love”.

  5. vpNo Gravatar says:

    I just saw Sugarland last Saturday in Detroit and I was very unimpessed, I’m not sure if it was because they had done four nights of shows, but Jennifer was lacking the energy that she dispalys on the dvd and that she did on the tv special. The dvd is enjoyable though.

  6. Matt. BNo Gravatar says:

    VP,

    I saw Sugarland perform after she was back from vocal rest and she was just as energetic and great as she was on the DVD. I would venture to say that the 4 days in a row was the reasoning.

    This band is probably my favorite act in the mainstream of any genre right now. I’d actually love to hear them do KOL’s “Use Somebody.” Sugarland could actually do a whole album of studio covers and it’d do really well, at least I think so.

  7. AaronNo Gravatar says:

    I LOVE this Dvd/Cd set! I bought it the week after it came out and I can’t stop listening to it! “Nightswimming/Joey” is one of my favorites and “Irreplaceable” has been my jam since I got it (though my friend Samantha wasn’t too thrilled with it). The DVD is amazing…it got me thru my depression of them cancelling their Glendale, AZ show with Keith Urban. I think Sugarland has quickly become superstars of the genre and they’ll definitely be here for awhile. I would be shocked not to see them nominated for Entertainer come Sept. 9.

  8. Razor XNo Gravatar says:

    I wish Sugarland would drop all of the 80s arena rock stuff and go back to the type of music that worked so well on their first two albums. I really don’t want to hear “country” versions of Pearl Jam or B-52′s songs.

  9. Chris D.No Gravatar says:

    I love this album- just really well performed songs. “The One I Love” is a standout, and I love “Better Man”, even though the original has more energy to it.

  10. Soul Miners DaughterNo Gravatar says:

    One of the things I love about Sugarland… they know their audience. They realize their fans aren’t just fans of country music and don’t just listen to country music.
    LOVE their work and hope they are around, and keep doing what got them to this point.. and better, for a long time.
    (translation: keep doing things their way and not let Music Row wear them out like they do everyone else)

  11. JayJayNo Gravatar says:

    Edie Brickell’s “Circle” is one of my all-time favorite songs- and man, Jennifer really does it justice. I agree with the idea that she could probably sing anything and it would sound pretty darn good.

    The first time I listened to this disc, I must admit that I was caught off guard by their cover of “Sex on Fire”. I looooove that song, and KoL- and I’m certainly the total opposite of a prude, but that’s definately the first time I’ve ever heard an oral sex reference made in the context of a country music performance. I think I expected them to change it and it’s because they didn’t that i giggled like a twelve year old for a minute. haha.

    and as a sidenote- when their inevitable covers album does come out, I bet it will be phenomenal. Jennifer and Kristian obviously have very eclectic taste in music and I bet there would be some very interesting/unexpected selections on a cover album.

  12. BobNo Gravatar says:

    Since my gradual shift to country music began in the mid 70′s, I’m not familiar with any of the rock songs mentioned. However, based on the above comments (thank you all) and the Sugarland TV special August 3rd, I’ll be buying this CD/DVD combo. Can Jennifer Nettles sing anything badly? Her versatility is as amazing as her voice.

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