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With ‘That Girl,’ Jennifer Nettles Offers Up a Response to Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’

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Jennifer Nettles

Jennifer Nettles (Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

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Sugarland fans are plenty familiar by now with the news that the duo’s lead singer Jennifer Nettles has a new solo album on the way, produced by the illustrious Rick Rubin. The album’s title is still under wraps, as is the exact release date (it’s said to be sometime in early 2014). However, one thing we do know for sure is that the album’s first single is “That Girl,” and it’s finally hitting the airwaves and iTunes today (Aug. 20).

“I wrote that with Butch Walker, he brought the idea over,” Nettles said of “That Girl” during an interview with Radio.com late last week in New York.

The basic idea of the song, she continued, is of a woman “who had been tricked, bamboozled if you will” by a man she had been seeing, who didn’t let on that “he had someone else in the picture. But when she finds that out, she says, ‘Oh no, I’m gonna call her and tell her that you’re being that guy, because I don’t want to be that girl with that stigma.'”

Nettle says, though, that as she and Walker were putting the song together, something clicked. “I looked at him [Butch] and said, ‘This should really be called “The Ballad of Jolene” in parentheses,” referring to the classic Dolly Parton song “Jolene,” which is about a woman pleading to another–whose name is Jolene, and whom the narrator sees as glamorous and alluring–to not steal her man away from her.

“All we hear from Dolly is her one perspective as the narrator,” Nettles explained. “But what if Jolene doesn’t want to take her man just because she can? We never know. And I thought that would be so interesting to tell that other part of the story.”

Jennifer Nettles at Joe's Bar in Chicago

Jennifer Nettles at Joe’s Bar in Chicago. (Christine Newsom/US99.5)

And so “That Girl” has taken on the identity of an answer song of sorts to Dolly Parton’s original. And when you think about it, it’s a bit surprising that it took so long for someone to pen a response.

“I think a lot of times, especially with songs that are so iconic, no one wants to tamper with it,” Nettle said. “But I think out of that reverence there may be a fear, and they don’t realize that, hey it’s not tampered with it if you’re using it as inspiration.”

Jennifer Nettles at Joe's Bar in Chicago

Jennifer Nettles at Joe’s Bar in Chicago (Christine Newsom/US99.5)

Nettles has been debuting some of the album’s songs in a series of low-key, intimate live shows at select small venues around the country. One of those shows took place last week at Joe’s Bar in Chicago, where she sang a selection of new material including “Fallen,” which she said was “inspired by a photograph”; “Know What You Know,” an upbeat, somewhat silly, twang-infused song about celebrity obsession (“Everybody wants to know everybody’s business”) that she wrote with Richard Marx; the slow country ballad “Me Without You”; and, of course, “That Girl.”

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