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“It just occurred to me putting out these deluxe packages later in the release cycle flew in the face of logic.”
—-Luke Lewis, Universal Nashville
LUKE LEWIS SWEET ON SUGARLAND
Third Mercury Nashville Album by Georgia Duo on Pace to Better Previous Double-Platinum Releases
Sugarland may be the best-kept secret in the music business, but they won't be for long.

The Georgia country duo, featuring lead vocalist Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush could be ready to follow the Dixie Chicks into crossover territory with this week’s release of their third Mercury Nashville album, Love on the Inside. Their previous two albums, 2004’s Twice the Speed of Life and 2006’s Enjoy the Ride, both went double-platinum, cumulatively selling more than 5 million copies, with the pair receiving a Best New Artist Grammy nomination and performing on the 2006 Awards show.

Universal Nashville head Luke Lewis, along with the band, decided on an unusual release strategy for the new album, deciding to go out of the gate with a deluxe fan edition of the CD, then following it up the very next week with a regular version, rather than go in reverse, as has become customary.

“It just occurred to me putting out these deluxe packages later in the release cycle flew in the face of logic,” said Lewis. “It forced real fans to buy the album again to get the bonus tracks and extra material. It didn’t make any sense.”

The deluxe fan edition of Love on the Inside features five additional bonus tracks, including a live version of “Life in a Northern Town,” their cover of the Dream Academy song, which has become a hit at country radio. The package also contains a code to download about 20 minutes of video, with studio footage, interviews about the making of the album and a live performance of “Life in a Northern Town.” The enhanced version of the album will end up selling at retail for around $12.99, while the regular, 11-track edition will sell for around $3 less, or $9.99.

“We’re hoping we can get a little relief from the second-week sales fall-off,” comments Lewis. “It’s basically a way of testing the waters for price-point tolerance. If fans are invested in an artist, and they get some extra value, even in these tough times, maybe they’re willing to pay more than we thought they might. We’re just trying to do something innovative.”

Meanwhile, the album is selling better than expected at digital outlets, leading to predictions based on one-day sales that it will do between 380-400k, putting it neck and neck with Miley Cyrus for #1 on next week’s HITS album chart. The duo also has a hit at country radio in “All I Want to Do,” which they performed on the recent ACM Awards. Their last release, 2006’s Enjoy the Ride, sold 211k its first week.

“This is the first year they’ve truly headlined their own shows,” says Lewis, who points out they opened for Kenny Chesney. “This has been built the traditional way, with a series of hit singles. And the collaboration with Bon Jovi on his #1 country single, ‘Who Says You Can’t Go Home,’ didn’t hurt.”

Lewis is cautious about crossover success for Sugarland, suggesting Nettles’ thick southern Georgia accent is an impediment in pushing for pop airplay.

“’All I Want to Do’ doesn’t sound country, but you’d have to tell me,” laughs Lewis. “I live here, so I have a different perception of it at this point. I’ve been here too long.”

Nevertheless, Lewis says having a country radio hit exposes an artist to “about 35 million people every week… That may not be as large as a pop audience, but it’s still pretty significant. Not that I’m content. I’d love for the rest of the world to hear Sugarland’s music. I didn’t give any consideration to crossover when we were launching this album, but there are already a lot of people for whom Sugarland is the only country album in their collection.”

Luke is convinced, the more people see Sugarland, the more albums they will sell.

“Jennifer’s one of the most engaging performers out there,” he says, with the duo planning to kick off their Love on the Inside Tour Sept. 13 in Asheville, NC, through Nov. 16 in Bossier City, LA. “They don’t disappoint when they play live. And this record has some real depth, while the press has been the best they’ve ever received. It feels great.”

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