Sugarland singer Nettles to perform Feb. 15 at Hard Rock Rocksino

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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Jennifer Nettles of the group Sugarland performs at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina in this June 18, 2009 photo. (Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/MCT)

So far, the brand spanking new Hard Rock Rocksino in Northfield hasn’t exactly wowed folks with the shows at its in-house live music venue the Hard Rock Live.

Former Runaway and ’80s rocker Joan Jett opened the casino, but so far all of the acts, including the Romantics and the upcoming Huey Lewis & the News, feature stars whose biggest hits and their 40s all happened in the last century. But, the venue’s slate is coming on into the 21st century with an upcoming appearance by Sugarland lead singer/songwriter Jennifer Nettles on Feb. 15.

Nettles, who after toiling away on the Atlanta bar scene in bands such as Soul Miner’s Daughter hooked up with fellow scenesters Kristian Bush and Kristen Hall to form Sugarland in the early aughts, has become a country/pop superstar. Hall left the band shortly after Sugarland hit it big.

Sugarland has sold more than 14 million albums, scored eight No. 1 singles and has been showered with awards including a Grammy and multiple AMA, CMTs, and an ASCAP award for songwriting.

In 2009, Nettles won the Academy of Country Music’s Crystal Milestone Award for being the first woman to be the solo songwriter on a song of the year winner since 1972, though that fact seems like something the ACMs might not want to highlight.

Now with Sugarland riding high, Nettles has decided to relaunch her solo career with her album That Girl and a relatively low-key introductory tour in smaller venues. She has been quietly planning her solo venture for four years and even wrote several of the album’s songs while pregnant with her son, Magnus.

Sugarland fans won’t find That Girl to be a great departure from the country pop sound of her main gig.

Produced with Rick Rubin in his signature back-to-basic style, the pair strips the layers of Sugarland’s slick pop sheen for much of That Girl. The album is frontloaded with familiar country sounds but Nettles dips her toes into other genres including the breezy, Latin-soul flavored, acoustic-driven tune Jealousy; an old-school soul-ballad This One’s for You — co-written with Sara Bareilles — and a peppy rock-a-billy tune Know You Wanna Know that skewers celebrities’ and fans’ addiction to social media.

The album ends with a gospel-inflected ballad Good Time to Cry and a spare cover of Bob Seger’s Like a Rock.

Opening for Nettles will be singer/songwriter Brandy Clark who has had her songs recorded by Miranda Lambert (Mama’s Broken Heart), the Band Perry (Better Dig Two) and Keith Urban (Come Back to Me). Clark released her debut solo album 12 Stories in October and it made the Top 30 on the Billboard Top Country Album Chart.

Tickets for Nettles went on sale Friday and if you’re a Nettles fan, you should snap up some tickets because this show will likely be a rare chance to see her perform in a smaller venue.

If That Girl becomes a hit album, the next time Nettles comes through Ohio she’ll be filling much more than the 2,600-seat capacity of the Hard Rock.

Vote for opener

On Feb. 8, the Akron Civic Theatre will welcome back Ohio’s most popular Led Zeppelin tribute band, Zoso. But for this show, the Civic has decided to ask fans of local bands to pick who will open for Zoso.

It’s an interesting and perhaps a bit haphazard list of tribute, cover and original bands all of whom could probably use an extra gig. There are 21 bands vying for your vote and they include tribute bands such as Distant Signals (Rush), Bringing Benatar (Pat Benatar) and Straight On (Heart).

The cover bands include long-timers such as the ’80s rock revivalists the Breakfast Club and ’80s dance and eclectic pop potpourri party band Big in Japan. Original music is represented by local bands such as Joe Vitale Jr., blues-rockers Scarlet & the Harlots and recently formed jam band the Pleiades. The voting ends Wednesday, so point your browser to the and help your favorite area band get a gig.

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmxabram.

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