At the height of the pandemic last year and amid a time our favorite artists bared their hearts' pain through music, country singer and songwriter Jennifer Nettles released her tender, tear-jerking single for her rendition of "Tomorrow," the beloved show tune from Annie. Fast forward a year later, and the Grammy-award winning musician and artist extraordinaire is back with her album Always Like New, where she fuses country and Broadway music for a record that speaks truest to her heart. With a background in musical theatre, the fourth studio album from Nettles might seem like a homecoming with tracks from some of Broadway's best, including classics to contemporary.
In an exclusive with Nettles about her record in light of the news that New York's famed Broadway is finally reopening this fall, the 46-year-old Georgia native reveals how the album was a dream in the making and one she always wanted to make, but never got the chance. "It's been a long time coming artistically and vocally and musically, no pun intended," Nettles laughed. "But the timing, specifically, then after it was recorded, for now, is not lost on me. Again, the symbolism of Broadway reopening, the world softly reopening in a way that we can go out and celebrate the things that we love again and I hope this record is included in that."
The expert performer who also took to the stage in 2015 as Roxie Hart in Chicago, admits there was "so much fantastic material" to choose from, but it was her collaborating with Alex Lacamoire, the musical director of contemporary Broadway classics like Dear Evan Hansen, In the Heights, The Greatest Showman and Hamilton that helped set the course. "Alex, who was my arranging and producing collaborator and partner on this album, we really had very specific criteria for what it was and how he chose these songs," she said, adding how every criterion was based out of ensuring "every song on the record had to pay respectful homage" to its original composition.
However, at the same time, re-imagining and rearranging for the superstar entertainer meant looking at it through a new lens. "If there were some songs that we tried that for example, weren't rearranged enough to be able to have a new discovery […] so, we made sure that that combination of both of those criteria was met."
Admitting that the pair were having the "hardest time re-imagining" their takes on the tracks, she credits Lacamoire for being so "talented and gifted" because he didn't have a hard time at all — take for example the track, "Wait for It" from Hamilton that Nettles describes as a spooky, swampy track for a song, sung by actor and her friend Leslie Odom Jr., that acts as a real mood setter for the show. "[Alex] could hear that, he could hear the spookiness, hear the drone and the song really took on a new life of its own," she said.
As a fan of musical theatre, Nettles understands how "precious" fans of the genre treat their favorite show tunes, adding how they walked through everything with "complete respect." She admits "sometimes it can be more intimidating to reinterpret something that is still current" and on the minds of fans in the present. "That can have its own level of intimidation. But at the same time wanting to be able to include this fantastic material was inspiration enough to be able to break through that intimidation and to feel like, 'Okay, yes, let's give it a try,'" she said.
With the album now here, Nettles wants them to revel in the "joy" of the music itself. "For those who know and love the form and know and love the genre, I hope that they take a joy of rediscovery of these songs and for those who don't […] I hope that those fans are reminded," she said. "For those who don't and may not know this material, I hope they get the joy of first discovery in a way that may possibly, they may not have ever given it a chance before, but when they hear this in the ways that they've been so wonderfully rearranged, that they are able to get excited about."
Always Like New is now available to purchase at all digital retailers, including Amazon and streaming on Apple Music and Spotify. For more on Nettles and all your entertainment news, stay tuned to the latest at PopCulture.com!