2006 saw a retooled Sugarland, now sans Kristen Hall, teaming up with a new producer, Byron Gallimore, for their sophomore release. Enjoy The Ride finds the now-duo, who share production credits, delving a little further into pop territory. Hall’s departure had seemingly no effect on the group’s popularity; the lead single “Want To”, written by Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush with Bobby Pinson, became Sugarland’s first #1 hit. The acoustic guitar-led track, which also features Dan Dugmore on dobro, is one of the more country-sounding songs on the album, and my personal favorite of the tracks that were released as singles. In addition to spending two weeks at the top of the charts, “Want To” became Sugarland’s fourth single to earn gold certification. The second single, the uptempo “Settlin’” likewise climbed to #1.
After “Settlin’” reached the top of the charts, another uptempo number was sent to radio. “Everyday America” is a story of about growing up in a small town, dreaming of moving on to bigger and better things, but ultimately deciding to stay put. In a sense it is a sequel to “Settlin’”, one in which a slightly older and presumably wiser protagonist has reconsidered her plans to change the world, opting instead to raise a family and enjoy a quiet life. Unfortunately, the track is too loud and overproduced, which detracts from the lyrics’ message. “Everyday America” was the worst-performing single from the album, though it still managed to crack the Top 10, peaking at #9.
The loudness and overproduction problems unfortunately are not unique to “Everyday America”; they plague a few of the album’s tracks, namely “County Line”, the annoying “Mean Girls”, and to a lesser degree, “Settlin’”. The tracks that work well are the quieter ones, most notably the sparsely produced ballad “Stay.” The album’s fourth single, which was written by Jennifer Nettles, features an acoustic guitar played by Kristian Bush, an organ, and Nettles’ powerhouse voice. Considered by many to be Sugarland’s finest moment on record, “Stay” — which Nettles says was inspired by Reba McEntire’s “Whoever’s In New England” — won two Grammys in 2006: Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and “Best Country Song. It also won Single of the Year and Song of the Year from the ACM and Song of the Year from the CMA. It just missed becoming Sugarland’s third #1 hit; peaking at #2, but it became their first platinum single. Unfortunately, it remains their last truly great single to date.
“These Are The Days” is a decent but not great song, notable primarily because Kristian Bush shares lead vocals with Nettles. Unfortunately his grating voice ruins the track. Much better is “Sugarland”, which seems as though it should have been included on the group’s first album. Written in 2003 by Kristian Bush with Vanessa Olivarez and former Sugarland member Kristen Hall, it likely predates Nettles’ hiring as lead singer. It is thematically similar to “Everyday America” but it makes it point much more effectively, and allows the album to close on an introspective high note.
Overall, I enjoyed the ride, but not as much as the first Sugarland album, primarily because of some of the production choices on a handful of tracks. Like its predecessor, it was certified triple platinum by the RIAA.
Enjoy The Ride is widely available, from vendors such as Amazon and iTunes.