Single Review: Jennifer Nettles, “Hey Heartbreak”

“Hey Heartbreak”
Jennifer Nettles

Written by Sara Haze, Shane McAnally, and Jimmy Robbins

When the discussion turns to the great female vocalists of our time, one name is usually left off of the list.

Part of that is due to her finding her greatest success as the lead singer of Sugarland, the group turned duo that was one of the genre’s best and most consistent hitmakers for a good stretch. Other than Wynonna, the whole “lead singer goes solo” thing is usually a disappointment, even when they’re as talented as Ronnie Dunn, Radney Foster, or Raul Malo. It’s why I’m thankful that Trisha Yearwood turned down that offer to replace Paulette Carlson in Highway 101, yet another name that could be added to that list of great talents who fell short when they went solo.

So let’s take a moment to acknowledge the greatness of Jennifer Nettles, a more interesting and talented singer than almost all of this year’s Female Vocalist lineup at the CMA Awards. “Hey Heartbreak” showcases, once again, just how good she really is. She has a unique style that expresses her emotions so well you can practically see her facial expressions while listening to a record.

The conceit of “Hey Heartbreak” has been done before, especially touchingly by the Suzy Bogguss hit, “Heartache” back in 1993. Nettles sells it well, and the song has some clever lyrical imagery that personifies the emotions she’s dismissing quite vividly. I particularly like that “crazy” is always leaving stuff on the bedroom floor that she keeps tripping over.

It’s a playful, enjoyable listen that is elevated by Nettles’ sheer vocal talent. Maybe radio will finally embrace her as a solo act and we can up the number of Female Vocalist nominees who can sing as well as the greats.

Grade: B+


  1. This is one of Nettles’ better vocal efforts, although I don’t especially like the song and its gimmicky arrangement. I think that she has to go a lot further to be classed among the greats.

    Truthfully, she should do like Taylor Swift and openly go pop since her music is only tangentially county

  2. I admit that Sugarland never drew me in to their music much, as a rule. Yet, Jennifer Nettle’s vocal strength has grown on me recently and I have enjoyed greatly some of her performances. Her response to Dolly Parton’s Jolene a couple of years ago I found interesting, although I am ambivalent about whether I liked it. I would agree, too, that Raul Malo has been sadly lacking in attention. And Ronnie Dunn is one of country’s great male vocalists. Yet, with Ronnie Dunn, I wonder if longevity is more a factor as country artists, as great as they remain in talent (and he retains it in abundance), do often reach generational shifts. I do not say that to approve of it but just to describe what I see. Of course, Reba McEntire and George Strait are huge exceptions to that general rule. All this being said, does Sugarland still exist? Or are they defunct? I have never had a clear answer to that.

  3. This is a decent song, but not NEARLY the best song on “Playing With Fire,” which is quickly becoming one of my favorite albums of the year (“Way Back Home” gets me every time…). And while I would agree with Paul that Nettles’s music is only “tangentially” country, I would hate to see her go pop. She brings so much organic warmth to her music, and that would be ironed out in a pop world.

  4. Nettles is one of those singers who can, for me, elevate even the most boring material. This song isn’t great, and I don’t love the production, but her singing makes it fun.

    I actually think she should go the other way- make a more traditional or roots-based album. “Love on the Inside” went a little bit in that direction (while still being firmly pop-country) and IMO that’s the best record she’s ever been involved in. But whatever she’s singing, I just wish we’d get to hear more of her!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.