Gold and Green

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Georgia's Sugarland rose to great heights in 2009 -- their 2008 album Love on the Inside reached platinum status, they recorded a prime-time network television special called Live on the Inside, which was then released in numerous packages that all sold well, and they sold out live shows globally. Therefore, it seems to make sense -- in Nashville's cynical and often crazy head -- that the group would release yet another stop-gap recording before the year runs out in lieu of a new studio album. Gold and Green is a hybrid holiday recording. It contains ten tracks, five of which are Christmas standards, including a country boogie version of "Winter Wonderland," a "backwoods" (if anything involving Byron Gallimore, who co-produces with Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush, could ever be that rootsy) "O Come O Come Emmanuel," and a steeped-in-reverence acoustic version of "Silent Night," sung bilingually in Spanish and English. The other five cuts are originals themed for the holidays. One has to give Sugarland some marks for trying to do something different than a standard-issue Christmas album. The songs, however, aren't actually up to snuff. The set's opening track, "City of Silver Dreams," is an homage to New York City at Christmastime and a hard luck, love song. It doesn't work on either level, and Nettles doesn't sound convincing in the least as a wide-eyed country girl seeing the sights in New York. As a broken love song, that theme is merely a half-baked afterthought. To make matters worse, the gradually building crescendo in the refrain is now such a Sugarland trademark, akin to a key change after the bridge in a Barry Manilow tune. In other word, it's become a cliché. On "Comin' Home," Sugarland addresses Nettles' rhythm and blues roots with better results, complete with a gospel chorus in the refrain. (Even the mandolins in the track are there to make the song sounds friendly to Nashville's radio bosses.) It's easily the best track here. "Maybe Baby," sung by Bush, sounds like a track left off Love on the Inside, and could have been performed by Bon Jovi. "Little Wood Guitar," written by Bush and Ellis Paul, is syrupy filler, pure and simple. So Gold and Green is a mixed bag in more ways than one, and while everything Sugarland touched in 2009 seems to turn the latter color of the album title, here they've sacrificed the real emotion of their first three studio albums for something that feels canned and pre-packaged. Gold and Green just feels like an obvious, cloying exercise in marketing, and holds little artistic merit.

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