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Sunny Sweeney

Concrete – 2011 (Republic Nashville)

Reviewed by Karlie Justus

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CDs by Sunny Sweeney

If the name Sunny Sweeney seems vaguely familiar, there's good reason: the Texan and her sassy brand of country music have been bouncing around country music circles for years now, thanks to the collective buzz of her 2006 debut "Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame" and a four-song EP released earlier this year.

But while the singer has floated around the Texas club circuit and flirted with radio airplay, she didn't enter the mainstream vernacular until single From a Table Away reached the top 10 on the country music charts this year.

While both collections of songs are good primers to her Texas drawl and pull-no-punches approach to songwriting, neither had the contemporary or collective punch of the brand-new "Concrete." The album combines the authenticity of Sweeney's obvious love of classic country with a current, mainstream edge that up until now had only been captured by Miranda Lambert and Eric Church - with strong influences of Patty Loveless, Natalie Maines and Terri Clark as mere icing on the rum-soaked cake.

From a Table Away and radio follow-up Staying's Worse Than Leaving are fine examples of the other eight songs that round out "Concrete," an album completed after Sweeney's own divorce. The love (and hate) songs here have little time for dressed-up niceties, instead cutting straight to the messiness of real relationships.

Perhaps most potently, Drink Myself Single and Helluva Heart conceal neglect with brash bawdiness, while lines such as "I know I'm one that you love/Just not the only one" on It Wrecks Me are just some examples of the honesty threaded throughout. But two songs truly summarize Sweeney's penchant for honky-tonk romps: Mean As You and Fall For Me are instant stand-outs that use banjos, fiddle and steel guitars to their utmost potential, making love's uncertainty a hell of a lot of fun.

The love-gone-wrong bent of "Concrete" is a touch one-note - only The Old Me approaches a subject matter unrelated to the trials and tribulations of love - but clearly finds the singer in her element. Together with producer Brett Beavers, Sweeney has crafted a rollicking collection of songs that marry an elusive blend of country's beloved roots with a new sound unique to right here, right now.