Album Review: Sugarland – Gold and Green

Stephen Deusner | December 11th, 2009

goldandgreenMuch like holiday movies and specials, Christmas albums bring out the children and the Scrooges in all of us with their chintzy production and forced cheeriness. Typically, they’re filled with the musical equivalent of switches and ashes: perfunctory run-throughs of the same old songs you hear every year and uninspired new compositions you won’t remember by the new year. On the surface, however, the idea of Sugarland doing a Christmas album at least sounds promising: Kristian Bush has a flair for snappy pop-country arrangements, and Jennifer Nettles’ churchly personality projects pure spunk and personality.

Unfortunately, Gold and Green sounds slapdash and paltry, with few of these numbers exuding the wit, nuance, and power the duo have shown on three previous albums. “Winter Wonderland” is oppressively upbeat, and “Holly Jolly Christmas” mutates into an awkward sing-along. At least “Nuttin’ for Christmas” sounds relatively mischievous, with some of the playful spirit of “It Happens” and “Steve Earle.” On the other hand, “O Come O Come Emmanuel” sounds thin and perfunctory, completely lacking in gravity or impact. On “Silent Night” Nettles alternates between English and phonetic Italian, as if copping from Andrea Bocelli’s playbook.

The originals fare only somewhat better. Opener “City of Silver Dreams” evokes the magic of Christmas in New York, with shop windows “dressed up in ribbons and smiles” and St. Patrick’s “all lit up.” By the end, the song becomes a paean to renewed hope that sounds especially poignant this year. The title track tries to repeat the sentiment, but without the specific setting, it comes off a little flat. Nettles and Bush harmonize sweetly on the pop hook of “Maybe Baby (New Year’s),” and she shows off her considerable vocal power and control on the jazzy “Coming Home,” which ultimately reinforces my long-standing rule that only Ella Fitzgerald and Betty Carter should be allowed to scat-sing.

Like so many Christmas albums, Gold and Green is pure product, a stopgap between studio albums. Yet, the duo have already given us one such release this fall, the Wal-Mart exclusive Live on the Inside. That was a middling concert album that at least peppered familiar tunes with covers of Edie Brickell and R.E.M. As for this poorly wrapped present: No really, Sugarland, you shouldn’t have.

2 Stars

  1. Leeann Ward
    December 11, 2009 at 9:57 am

    I disagree with you quite a bit on this, but I can say that I don’t like Kristian singing lead. His voice sounds thin and nasally. I like that a lot of the tracks sound more country than usual for them, though I don’t like the more epic pop style songs. Over all, I think this is a decent country Christmas album with Silent Night being one of the standouts. I don’t know the foregn language that Nettles is singing in, but I’ve read that she has a degree in Spanish? I’d probably give the album a 3.5.

  2. Brady Vercher
    December 11, 2009 at 9:58 am

    This really was a self-indulgent release that, unfortunately, doesn’t connect. Bush’s interview with The Tennessean is pretty revealing and might explain the problems with “O Come O Come Emmanuel.”

  3. Razor X
    December 11, 2009 at 10:58 am

    Sugarland really need to get over themselves. Kristian Bush’s ego is growing at an alarming pace.

  4. Rick
    December 11, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    I won a copy of this from C.M. at Country California (thanks again CM), and since I’m such a big fan of “Subversive Jen” I plan on trading it in for credit at F.Y.I.. At least now I know I’m not missing anything by not listening to it first…

    PS – Stephen said: “By the end, the song becomes a paean to renewed hope that sounds especially poignant this year.” I totally agree about this sentiment as I truly “Hope” Odumbo completely fails in his agenda to “socialize” America and a big “Change” comes to Congress in the November 2010 elections…

  5. Rachel
    December 11, 2009 at 12:40 pm

    I should have known the 9513 would treat this album like a bunch of crap. You fools wouldn’t know good music from Sugarland if it bit you in the butt. And apparently you don’t have a stinking clue of the difference between Spanish–which is what Jennifer is fluent in–and Italian. This review is pathetic. As for the last comment-what the crap is that? Sugarland doesn’t need to get over themselves. YOU need to get over YOURSELF; and WTF–Kristian’s ego is getting too big? THANKS FOR THE LAUGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Sheep
    December 11, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    Err… OK, Rachel.

    The only song I’ve heard so far is “Nuttin’ For Christmas, and I personally love it.

  7. Stephen M. Deusner
    December 11, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    Busted! Nettles is indeed singing in Spanish, not in Italian, on “Silent Night.” That’s completely my error, but I don’t think it negates my larger point about this album or redeems this song at all.

  8. Razor X
    December 11, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    Stay classy, Rachel.

  9. mary harris
    December 11, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    I love sugarland and they can do nothing bad

  10. Steve Harvey
    December 11, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    I still believe Dylan’s Christmas In The Heart is the only Xmas album worth owning.

  11. Leeann Ward
    December 11, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    Oh…that album is sooo bad. I like rough vocals as much as the next person, but Dylan’s not even trying on that album.

  12. Jon
    December 11, 2009 at 4:44 pm

    Aw, phooey, Steve Harvey. There’s a bunch of good Christmas albums around, from Rhonda Vincent, Joe Nichols, Larry Sparks, Alison Brown, Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless…

  13. Jon
    December 11, 2009 at 4:46 pm

    ..and Gretchen Peters, too.

  14. Leeann Ward
    December 11, 2009 at 4:50 pm

    I really enjoy the Gretchen Peters Christmas album.

  15. Stormy
    December 11, 2009 at 9:36 pm

    1. Doesn’t O Come O Come Emmanuel already HAVE a story behind it? And isn’t it set in a slightly warmer climate?

    2. I don’t even want to know what Jennifer’s accent is like if her Spanish sounds Italian.

    3. Add to the list of good Christmas albums:
    A Very Special Accoustic Christmas–Its like O Brother, but with Christmas music.
    Colin Raye–The Gift–Did you know that most Christmas Hymns have more than one verse? Colin Raye did and he actually sings them.
    Trisha Yearwood–The Sweetest Gift–She breaks out some really good, less traditional spiritual music.

    Not country, but good:
    Joan Osbourne–Christmas is Love–Classy blend of blues and jazz.

  16. idlewildsouth
    December 11, 2009 at 10:42 pm

    Isn’t Spanish and Italian fairly similar?

  17. Leeann Ward
    December 11, 2009 at 10:57 pm

    Stormy,
    I’m surprised you’re recommending the Collin Raye album. Isn’t it pretty pop? I actually don’t remember all that well, because I’ve only listened to it once and really only remember “the Gift”. I should pull it out again.

    I need to check out the Osborne album. I’m betting that’s a good recommendation.

  18. Stormy
    December 12, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Leeann: His vocals are pretty smooth, but there are a lot of country instruments. Plus, It Could Happen Again features Johnny Cash.

  19. Mayor JoBob
    December 12, 2009 at 12:35 am

    A Brad Paisley Christmas period. That’s all I need.

  20. Occasional Hope
    December 12, 2009 at 5:40 am

    If Sugarland wanted a Christmas carol with cold lyrics they should have done In The Bleak Midwinter.

  21. Stormy
    December 12, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Now I am suddenly thankful that Sugarland didn’t do In The Bleak Midwinter.
    However if you want to find it, both Shawn Colvin and Sarah McLachlin do excellent covers on their Christmas albums.

    To answer the obvious question:
    Yes Sarah McLachlin did a Christmas album. That sounds Awesome, right? Actually, not so much. It turned out oddly flat. Highlights to download:
    War Is Over, The River, Wintersong,In HTe Bleak Midwinter, Christmas Time Is Here.

  22. Dan Milliken
    December 14, 2009 at 9:11 am

    Leeann,

    I don’t think Dylan can try anymore (and he shouldn’t, unless it’s on new material we won’t hear otherwise). I got to see him when I worked for a concert venue in Maryland two summers ago, and I was astounded at how much his voice has withered. You could barely even recognize “Like A Rolling Stone,” there were so few actual sung notes in it.

  23. Leeann Ward
    December 14, 2009 at 1:36 pm

    Yeah, Dan, one of my friends who is a huge Dylan fan said the same thing of a concert that she attended of his.

  24. charles
    January 12, 2010 at 4:11 pm

    This review is totally wrong. Sugarland did a great job on this album and there is should not be any dispute about that. Every song on there is gold except for Holly Jolly. I personally loved Kristians vocals they were awesome.

    PS:9513 all of your reviews suck and you would not no good music if it slapped you in the face. The writer of this review is a total a**h***

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