Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
When we last heard from Sunny Sweeney in 2011 with "Concrete," her major label debut on Big Machine showed a very different side of Sweeney, whose album 5 years earlier was appropriately titled "Heartbreakers Hall of Fame." Texas honky tonk and traditional country songs blanketed her debut, but the same could not be said for "Concrete," which was the kind of disc that those bemoaning slicked up country had reason to be right.
Sweeney is back and in excellent form on her ultra personal indie release, which resembles more closely, although not totally, her debut with lots of heartache and cheating. That's evident from the opening and the closing song titles on the 13-song release: "You Don't Know Your Husband," an honest-to-goodness cheating song told from the women's perspective, and "Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass," reaffirming the strong woman attitude. When she sings "There's Merle Haggard that needs singing" in the latter with lots of pedal steel enveloping her vocals, there's a believability there missing from the long line of country poseurs who name check such pillars of country.
These are not feel good songs with lots of songs about relationships and life gone awry ("Second Guessing" and "Front Rowe Seats").
Sweeney's voice shows a lot more depth and emotion on "Provoked." When she's singing and snarling her way through "Bad Girl Phase," written in part by the hot writer Brandy Clark, she comes off as a lot more believable than say Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert on "Somethin' Bad." Interestingly, though, Sweeney and Lambert occupy a very large chunk of the same musical turf.
Sweeney also shows her introspective side on the lovely "My Bed" featuring Will Hoge on vocals. She turns in a bouncy cover of Randy Weeks' "Can't Let Go," which veers far more country than Lucinda Williams' swampy version.
Sweeney has not totally abandoned the more contemporary sounds of "Concrete" as "Carolina on the Line" could have easily fit on that release, although Sweeney's vocals exude sadness.
"Provoked" may be an apt song title. Perhaps Sweeney was not happy with the results of being on a major and, once again, felt compelled to put her vocals where her heart is. Yet again, Sweeney makes heartbreak sound great.