Personnel: Jennifer Nettles (background vocals); Ilya Toshinskiy (acoustic guitar, mandolin); Dann Huff (electric guitar, programming); Derek Wells, Scott Patton (electric guitar); Paul Franklin (steel guitar); Matt Rollings (piano); Charlie Judge (keyboards); Travis McNabb, Matt Chamberlin (drums); Jason Bonilla (programming).
Audio Mixer: Justin Niebank.
Recording information: Blackbird Studios, Nashville, TN; Downtown Music Studios, Newyork, NY; Hound's Ear Studios, Franklin, TN; Ocean Studios, Burbank, CA; Starstruck Studios, Nashville, TN; Studio Trilogy, San Francisco, CA; The Cabin Studios, Los Angeles, CA; The Castle Recording Studios, Franklin, TN.
Photographer: Marc Baptiste.
The first time Jennifer Nettles stepped away from Sugarland she teamed with producer Rick Rubin for That Girl, a 2014 album that leaned hard on her earthy rock underpinnings. Playing with Fire, the sophomore set delivered two years later, is the flip side of the coin. Produced by Dann Huff -- a Nashville veteran with a back-story in AOR rock -- Playing with Fire is snappy, shiny country-pop with such a strong R&B undercurrent that it comes as no surprise when Jennifer Lopez stops by to duet on the album-closing "My House." Its lithe drum loops accentuate how well the rest of Playing with Fire incorporates modern soul. Much of the record plays with these bright rhythms -- "Hey Heartbreak" pushes it into the realm of crossover AAA pop, "Chaser" simmers with these nimble cadences, while "Sugar" swaggers like vintage Shania Twain -- and this playfulness winds up as an attractive accent to the album's professional sturdiness. Nettles and Huff have a keen ear for material, providing a showcase for Brandy Clark (the slyly funny "Drunk in Heels"), choosing songs that highlight her knack for understated balladry ("Three Days in Bed," "Salvation Works") or skill as a belter ("Playing with Fire"), yet nothing here feels like showboating. There's a subtlety to how all these moods fit together and that's what makes Playing with Fire a success: each song plays upon a distinctive mood but, added together, it provides a portrait of a sharp, savvy country diva. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine