Jennifer NettlesThat Girl/Mercury Nashville

As lead singer in the contemporary country duo Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles and partner Kristian Bush kept growing increasingly experimental over four albums. For her first solo album, "That Girl," Nettles takes a different tact, stripping her songs to their basics, both sonically and emotionally.

Nettles is blessed with a voice that features a wide range and a distinct, vinegary tone. But it's her ability to connect with a song's emotional content that makes her stand out most. "That Girl" shows off that quality remarkably well, whether she's singing an open-hearted ballad like "This Angel," a playful yet meaningful bopper like "Moneyball" or a complicated confessional like the title cut.

Producer Rick Rubin balances spare acoustic arrangements with inventive rhythms and orchestrations. Even the most dramatic moments shine because of a deft, light touch, from the Latin rhythms of "Jealousy" to the way horns come in on "This One's For You" to how drums and strings are introduced in "Me Without You."

"That Girl" is a 1970s-style creative statement, recalling classic Carole King and Linda Ronstadt rather than any of her country or pop contemporaries. It's a reminder of how powerful music can be when it comes from the heart - and tilts more toward talent than technology.

By Michael McCall, Associated Press

Paul Cebar Tomorrow SoundFine Rude Thing/Groovesburg Joys

Within the narrow confines of 1960s R&B, Paul Cebar throws a lot at the wall. And most of his shtick sticks.

"Fine Rude Thing" lives up to its title from the pickup to the first measure, with Cebar screaming something unintelligible before the baritone sax joins in. The tune quickly settles into a satisfying groove, and that's where Paul Cebar Tomorrow Sound remains for the rest of the 11-song set, ramshackle yet super-tight.

Most of the tunes recall hitmakers of the distant past: Dion on "Baby Shake," Al Green on "You Owe It to You," Sly Stone on "Might Be Smiling" and the Shangri-Las on "Not Necessarily True." There's some ska, a taste of the Caribbean, and the closing "Like Loving People Do," which sounds like a New Orleans traffic jam.

Almost everything swings, including "Shack & Shambles," which manages to overcome Cebar's worst singing. His two-pack-a-day vocals are sometimes an asset, however, and he can make a roadhouse seem like home.

"Hope you make it through another struggling day," he sings. This album helps.

By Steven Wine, Associated Press