Singer, songwriter, and all-around icon Jennifer Nettles may be one of country music's biggest superstars, but as all of her fans know, her talents have always managed to transcend a single genre. Case in point? Nettles' highly anticipated new album, Always Like New, which sees the Grammy award-winner pay epic tribute to her first love: musical theater.
Filled with fresh takes on American Songbook classics, and newer favorites from Hamilton and Dear Evan Hansen, the album has arrived just in time to anticipate Broadway's comeback after an unprecedented year-long shutdown. If you're already counting down the days until your next theatergoing experience, this joyous homage will have you singing and dancing until curtain time.
Seeing as Nettles is a certified New Yorker herself (and made her own Broadway debut back in 2015 starring as Roxie Hart in Chicago), her undeniable love letter to the city's Great White Way feels especially poignant. We caught up with the star for the inside scoop on the album and, of course, her go-to recommendations for the ultimate NYC night out.
What does the release of Always Like New mean to you?
I am so thrilled to finally have this out into the world. I actually sung the last note of the last song in terms of recording this album on March 12th, 2020. And I walked out of the vocal booth and into the sound booth and all of our phones started blowing up saying 'Broadway is closing tomorrow.' It is such a chill-inducing moment in terms of the cosmic timing of it and definitely at the time underscored the seriousness of what this pandemic was about to be. I mean, historically, Broadway closed one night, for 9/11. It did not close through any of the world wars. It is an iconic American institution. And for it to be closing, it was such a significant, symbolic moment. Little did we know then, here we are well over a year later, before September comes when it will be reopening its doors again. So all that being said, I'm thrilled that this album can come out now and sort of wave that flag, be that drum major to celebrate the parade of what's going to be so much beauty on those stages again.
So many of these songs are iconic, timeless classics. How did you approach recording them in a fresh way while paying respect to the originals?
The name of this album is Always Like New, and the name is symbolic really in the sense that most of these songs are theater classics and yet music is always evolving. So these are new takes, new arrangements, new treatments of these very classic, perennial pieces of music. I feel like for me, it's been a long time coming and a homecoming in terms of my own love for musical theater and the respect that I have for that beautiful American Songbook. The legacy that it is. We were very conscious in how we approached this album. Alex Lacamoire, who was my collaborator, and I made sure that we were paying a respectful homage to the originals while at the same time reimagining them and rearranging them in such a way that they could be rediscovered by a listener as if it were the first time. Or discovered in general if it is for the first time!
How do you think the mood of the album reflects this time of optimism across the country, and in New York especially?
It is absolutely a joyous record. We just celebrated the premiere of the video for "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'" in Times Square which was super exciting. We had the video on the Viacom billboard and it was absolutely thrilling to see it so much larger than life. That song in particular is such a joy-filled track and definitely embodies gratitude in its tone and its message. Really walking into this new dawning, this new morning that we're coming into as we re-emerge as a country from this pandemic.
You're no stranger to the Broadway stage, but as a theater fan, are you looking forward to being back in the audience again?
I'm excited for sure, most of all as a fan, to do what I call 'celebrate the surrender.' I believe as a theatergoer you walk into the theater and you sit down in the seats and you have an unspoken contract with the people on that stage that you will surrender your time, you will surrender your disbelief, and you will open up your heart to be taken on an emotional journey. I cannot wait to be taken on that journey again.
No Broadway night out is complete without a pre-show dinner or post-show nightcap. What's your go-to spot for the full NYC theater district experience?
I'm such a big fan of The Lambs Club. I think it is always solid and it is such an iconic restaurant in terms of being there in the theater district for so long. I really appreciate it for a pre-show dinner or going out afterwards for a post-show nightcap situation. They have a cocktail there called the Gold Rush that I am obsessed with. Although it is pretty hefty so be mindful and don't get one of those before the show because you may be absolutely knocked out!
What are some of your other favorite dinner destinations in the city?
I also love and just went recently to Wayan. It's so delicious, so spicy, so wonderful. Cédric Vongerichten, Jean-Georges son is the chef there - it is fantastic. I love Cosme. It is quintessential, high-level Mexican cuisine but not fussy. And I am a super major fan of Mexican food. You also can't beat ABC Kitchen. [For Southern food] Bubby's is in my neighborhood so they're always good for cheese grits and some bacon. Or some fried chicken, their fried chicken is amazing. And please don't let me miss Crown Shy down in FiDi! Get the chicken, it's amazing!
Download Always Like New on Apple Music HERE!