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Not Just Your Average Sugar-Coated "Gold and Green"
on October 14, 2009
Prime Cuts: Little Wood Guitar, City of Silver Dreams, Nuttin' for Christmas
Christmas CDs are a knotty affair: almost every successful artist is mandated to release one yuletide offering nowadays whether or not the set is birthed from the heart. With 5 number 1 hits, 3 multi-platinum albums, and a prime time TV special, success certainly has been a close relative of Sugarland. And like many country superstars, they have been lobbied by their record company to cut a seasonal effort as a stop-gap album in lieu of a brand new studio CD this year. Yet, this duo has not treated this as a contractual CD. Rather, on this hybrid effort, they have invested 5 original tunes, some of which are among their most heartfelt compositions. Even when they tackle the seasonal chestnuts, they have endorsed their interpretations with innovative creativity. Bursting the seams of genre classifications, these 10 cuts are made so much more interesting with doses of r & b, jazz, pop, country rock as well as even some traces of bluegrass.
The set's opener "City of Silver Dreams" is an instant heart grabber--a polished country pop ballad about a wide-eyed country girl's first Christmas in the urban jungle of New York City. Jennifer Nettles' heartfelt delivery emotes in convincing ways the loneliness of being homesick that truly staggers the heart. "Little Wood Guitar," written by Ellis Paul and Kristian Bush, is a finely honed narrative piece telling the story of how a girl's life changed since she received a guitar as her only gift one Christmas. Yet not is syrupy sentimental; Sugarland shows that they know how to have fun with "Nuttin' for Christmas." Cute, fun, and definitely catchy--Nettles truly sounds like she's having fun and easily "Nuttin' for Christmas" would rock well in the ranks of classics such as "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Jingle Bells." However, not all the originals are of that lofty in standard: "Maybe Baby" sounds like a track from their standard album with "Christmasy" references tagged on. While "Coming Home" is pretty average this time finding the duo in r&b territory with a light touch of Gospel.
As for the seasonal favourites, Sugarland does step out of the tried and tested box. This duo gives "Winter Wonderland" a country boogie makeover that is infectious. While most renditions of "O Come O Come Emanuel" are dirge-like slow, Sugarland offers a bluegrassy take of this hymn making it sound like a rootsy Southern Gospel revival number. Never to be restrained by the language barrier, "Silent Night" is sung bilingually in both English and Spanish. This time "Silent Night" finds Jennifer Nettles trading lines with Kristian Bush making one wish they would sing more duets together. Kristian Bush again returns to the microphone to sing lead on "Holly Jolly Christmas" which is quite jovial without being exceptional.
Relative to most Christmas CDs out there, "Gold and Green" shows personality. More than just a holiday album, this is very much a Sugarland record. They have left their patented mark all over. Even the traditional old favourites have been re-vamped. However, like their studio albums, with the originals coming mostly from their own pens, some of them become pretty average pop country efforts. Other than that, "Gold and Green" is much more than your average sonic ornament.