Sugarland, Covelli Center, Youngstown, Oh., July 13, 2018

Reviewed by Michael Rampa

A few songs into Sugarland’s Youngstown, Oh. Show, Kristian Bush referenced the band’s 5-year gap between tours saying, “A lot of people think Jennifer and I have been on a five-year vacation. Actually, we’ve been very busy.” Clearly a lot of that time was spent in rehearsal. The duo put on a two-hour high energy gem that started out big and just kept getting bigger; deftly done as “Bigger” is the title of their first album in eight years.

Nettles’ supercharged twang was in top form. After opening with the title track, they deferred the newer material to the latter half of the show and  opted for a mini block of hits including the No.1 “Stuck Like Glue,” “Want To” and “Already Gone” as if to reassure the crowd that the tour title “Still The Same” was representative of the show and their continued commitment to the fans.

Nettles is a big fan of remixes and tossed in a medley of “Billie Jean/We Want The Funk”/ Express Yourself” at the halfway point. Bush has become more animated in their live shows, whether dancing in sync with Nettles or strutting around the stage armed with a weapon from his collection of guitars and mandolins. It is refreshing to see him step out front sometimes as Nettles is difficult to keep up with in the charisma department and at times is positively electric. The room fell completely silent upon the opening notes to the heartbreaking “Stay” with Nettles cast in blue light before they brought it all home and torched “Baby Girl “and a cover of “Lady Marmalade” that seemed to make the packed house realize that five years was worth the wait.

Claire Bowen, of television’s country drama “Nashville” and arguably the best vocalist of the cast filled out the pre-opener role with her new husband Brandon Robert Young and performed a five -song set featuring her silky soprano which complimented her husband’s equally impressive upper range. Their talent was best showcased on a cover of The Civil Wars “I Didn’t Know Better.”

Brandy Clark followed and true to form proved that she could easily pull her weight as a headline act, should that chance ever come. Clark took lead guitar on “Stripes” and her Grammy nominated for Best Country Solo Performance “Love Can Go To Hell,” Though she is not exactly a household name, some of her music is instantly recognizable, albeit in another artist’s hands. She thanked Miranda Lambert for making Mama’s Broken Heart” a hit which Clark she co-wrote with Kacey Musgraves and Shane McAnally and said, “She did some things with that song that were very special.”