Album Review: Sunny Sweeney, Concrete

Sunny Sweeney

Concrete

Sunny Sweeney’s 2007 debut album was fantastic, but too raw and twangy for country radio to touch it with a ten-foot pole.  Thus, Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame produced no charting singles.  Sweeney re-emerged in 2010 with “From a Table Away,” a single that took on a glossier finish so as to be more radio-friendly.  Still, the core country elements were uncompromised.  The strategy worked, netting Sunny Sweeney the first Top 10 hit of her career.  Likewise, the remainder of her sophomore album has enough polish to be palatable to country radio, but Sweeney’s traditionalist bent remains intact, as the album retains an identifiably country sound throughout (such that the “pop-country” label would be a misnomer).  Concrete sounds poised to build on Sunny Sweeney’s newfound career momentum, yet it also finds an artist able to make reasonable commercial concessions without sacrificing her own identity in the process.

Mainstream country music all too often settles for one-dimensional songs about domestic bliss, summer fun, country livin’, you name it.  But Sweeney takes us back to the classic themes of country music – cheating, drinking, heartbreak – and puts her own distinct and creative spin on them.  This is evident in her breakout hit single “From a Table Away,” which casts Sweeney as the infamous “other woman” character in the love triangle.  The song walks us through the narrator’s revelation that the married man she loves has been lying to her as much as he’s lied to his wife, and that the fantasy of having him to herself will never become reality.  But it’s the similarly-themed “Amy” that ranks as arguably the album’s best track.  In a confrontation between wife and mistress, Sweeney asks for forgiveness for her own actions, but also asks the wife to recognize the own role she herself has played in her husband’s course of adultery.  “Amy” is a song characterized by raw, unabashed honesty, and that’s the stuff of a country music classic.

In addition to her smart, punchy songwriting, Sweeney excels in her ability to inject emotion and personality into her song lyrics.  That’s evident in the excellent current single “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving,” in which she delivers opening lines “Leaving’s hard/ Trust me, it’s really bad” with the tired, weathered tone of one who’s been there – and she has been there, having drawn on her own divorce as inspiration in her songwriting.  Even the most well-constructed lyric can fall flat if the performance doesn’t pop, but Sweeney gives strong, commanding performances that strike all the right emotional chords in the lyrics.  Album opener “Drink Myself Single” might not stand out much from any other good-timing country drinking song if delivered by a less-capable vocalist.  But Sweeney injects spite and vindictiveness into lines like “I wanna know what it’s like/ To stagger in the house like you do every night/ Sneakin’ in the bed like I don’t know the truth…” thus adding a layer of snark and bitterness to the uptempo honky-tonk tune.  Similarly, her anger-ridden delivery of “Helluva Heart” elevates  the tell-it-like-it-is “You done me wrong” song a significant degree above the typical kiss-off number.

There are many reasons why die-hard country music fans have grown disillusioned with the format’s current state, with the absence of country instrumentation being one.  But the greater loss has been the lack of well-crafted, resonant lyrical material matched with emotionally-connective vocal performances.  That’s one of the biggest reasons why country radio has become such a yawn.  Country music needs more artists like Sunny Sweeney, and more so now than ever before.  Sweeney demonstrates a strong connection to the country music of the past, while also showing that she has plenty to say as an artist herself.  If radio holds onto to her, she would present a formidable threat of making the format interesting again.  Regardless, Concrete is a rock-solid effort strong enough to withstand more than a few repeated listenings.

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14 Comments

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14 Responses to Album Review: Sunny Sweeney, Concrete

  1. bobNo Gravatar

    Great review. I recently bought Concrete and Heartbreaker’s and would recommend both.

  2. I think on balance I preferred the rawer sound of the first album, but this is very good, and Amy is a great song.

  3. I like the first album better as well, but she had to move to a less raw sound to have any hope at commercial viability. All in all, I think she’s struck a good balance. I like the new album a lot.

  4. ScooterNo Gravatar

    The album was ok, but I also liked the first album better. I thought “Drink Myself Single” would be the best radio song. I also liked “Amy”.

  5. Dan MillikenNo Gravatar

    I’d give it 3 stars, maybe 3 1/2. The first half of the album, where all the highlights are, rocks. The second half is well-produced filler. I hope she keeps growing as a singer, too – can still be a little boring.

  6. GatorNo Gravatar

    I’m stuck somewhere in between 31/2 and 4 stars because at first I loved it but after listening to Hell on Heels I’ve become less impressed by the album plus some of the songs don’t hold up as well as I would have liked.

  7. I like the first album a lot more than this one so far.

  8. Adam JamesNo Gravatar

    “Country music needs more artists like Sunny Sweeney, and more so now than ever before.”

    I agree 100%. I just hope Nashville doesn’t take Sunny and water her down like they have with other great Texas artists. Though I think with Miranda Lambert’s success, Sunny’s got a chance. She’s one of the best new(er) artists out there imo.

  9. RezNo Gravatar

    Can i ask if u will make cma staff picks? Thanks

  10. SweetcheeksNo Gravatar

    Sweetcheeks here! I liked the “From a Table Away” Sunny Sweeney. I did not like the “Heartbreakers Hall of Fame” Sunny Sweeny. That was music that is for critics or Texans but not for your regular country radio. I hope Sweeney goes in the “Table Away” direction but with a little more polish and a little more pop. Just a bit. But she’s still a bit too country and too Texas but she is moving in the right direction.

  11. I hope Sweeney goes in the “Table Away” direction but with a little more polish and a little more pop. Just a bit. But she’s still a bit too country and too Texas but she is moving in the right direction.

    I’m sorry, but I hope for the opposite of what you want, I think Sweeny has the potential to be great, and she doesn’t need to pander to the ‘pop’ aspect of country to be a great artist. Just because she sounds the way country used to sound doesn’t mean she can’t have success at radio (which might be putting too much faith in country radio)…. Nothing’s wrong with some fiddles on a song, in my opinion.

    I liked “From A Table Away,” it managed to sound like a country song and still had a good chart run at radio. I look forward to hearing this album.

  12. She has good potential and will continue to grow. I would give the album a 3 1/2 or 4.

  13. Susan K.No Gravatar

    I was very disappointed by this album, and I liked her first. It was just so-so. “Amy” is the only song I’ve listend to more than once. I’ve placed in in my cd graveyard.

  14. Paul W DennisNo Gravatar

    I’ve listened to this album with some frequency over the last few weeks and while it is not as a good as HEARTBREAKERS HALL OF FAME, it is still a good album.

    I understand the need to dial it back in order to produce something that does not offend the vapid tastes of radio programmers and listeners like “Sweetcheeks” ; however, I fear if she goes any further in compromising her sound for radio, she will become just another discard in the radio wasteland of formerly promising artists

    That would be a crime because Sunny Sweeney is one of the few bright spots in an environment littered with Martina McBride / Faith Hill wannabees