For some performers, success isn’t enough. They have to listen to another voice and pursue another direction, one that diverges from what has made them famous.
That’s what Jennifer Nettles has done, for the time being.
In January, the lead singer for the country duo Sugarland released “That Girl,” a solo album that explores a variety of musical terrains. Thursday night at the Midland theater, she performed that album in its entirety plus a few covers and several Sugarland hits before an audience of more than 1,800. Some of it showed off her impressive voice, a dynamic mix of twang and soul.
Backed by a four-piece band, she opened with the album’s bluesy title track, a song she co-wrote with Butch Walker, then the poppy “Moneyball.” She threw the crowd an early Sugarland bone with “Baby Girl,” then another “That Girl” track, “Me Without You,” a folky ballad with a vibe similar to Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.”
“That Girl” was produced by Rick Rubin, and it comes off a as a collection of well-crafted songs that convey many moods, though none emphatically. It also bears the sounds of the music Nettles said most influenced her, which includes lots of ’70s pop and rock.
Live, most of those songs felt the same: rendered cleanly and with various depths of emotion. She let her voice loose a few times but none more dramatically or emotively than during “Good Time to Cry,” which brought some in the crowd out of their seats.
She filled her 90-minute set with a few covers. She accompanied herself on piano during Ambrosia’s yacht-rock classic “Biggest Part of Me” and a bit of Barry Manilow’s “Weekend in New England,” which she fused into “This One’s for You,” another track from her solo album.
Later, she performed Imagine Dragon’s “Demons,” only using acoustic guitars, accordion and box drum.
Not surprisingly, the Sugarland songs aroused the biggest ovations: “Baby Girl,” “All I Want to Do,” “Something More” and a dramatic, stripped-down rendition of “Stay,” an adulteress’ plea to her cheating lover.
She ended with two more “That Girl” tracks: “Thank You,” a ballad with a spiritual message, then her near-whispery cover of Bob Seger’s ruminative ballad “Like A Rock,” which took on a gospel/folk flavor.
She opened with a 30-minute solo-acoustic set that showcased her voice and songwriting skills. Her set list included two of her songs that have been made famous by others: “Better Dig Two,” a hit for the Band Perry, and “Mama’s Broken Heart,” a hit for Miranda Lambert. Clark also came onstage during Nettles’ set and joined her on the song “His Hands.”SET LIST
That Girl, Moneyball, Baby Girl, Me Without You, Falling, Biggest Part of Me, Weekend in New England/This One’s For You, Jealousy, This Angel, All I Want to Do, Good Time to Cry, Demons, Something More, His Hands, Stay, Know You Wanna Know. Encore: Thank You, Like a Rock.