In the midst of the multiplatinum run of their solid debut, Twice The Speed Of Life, Sugarland lost one of its founding members when Kristen Hall unexpectedly announced that she’d rather concentrate on her songwriting. Considering the disproportionate amount of attention paid to the group’s frontwoman, Jennifer Nettles, it was easy to overlook the contributions of Hall and Kristian Bush to Sugarland’s overall sound. On the duo’s sophomore album, Enjoy the Ride, it’s clear that Hall took a good deal of the personality in the group’s songwriting with her when she left. Indeed, Hall is credited as a co-writer (with Bush and American Idol castoff Vanessa Olivarez) on the only track, “Sugarland,” that bears any real first-person authenticity. (For the remaining songs, Bush and Nettles enlisted a variety of co-writers, including Lisa Carver and Bobby Pinson.) While lead single “Want To” hinges on some nice turns-of-phrase, “County Line” and “Everyday America” rely on the same clichés of small-town life, and opener “Settlin’,” “Happy Ending,” and “April Showers” mine the same tired genre tropes. There’s nothing as inspired as their soaring debut single, “Baby Girl,” or as ribald as “Down In Mississippi (Up To No Good)” from Twice The Speed Of Life. What salvages the album, then, is Garth Fundis’ smart production, which place Bush’s roots background and Nettles’s powerhouse vocals—it’s worth mentioning that she’s the most distinctive singer mainstream country has produced in a hot minute—in an engaging, accessible rock-leaning sound. Much of Enjoy the Ride recalls Nettles’s recent hit duet with Bon Jovi, “Who Says You Can’t Go Home.” The punchiness of the album’s sound should allow Enjoy the Ride to continue Sugarland’s commercial hot streak, as Bush and Nettles further sharpen their songwriting.
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