Four years after exploring Western swing on the appropriately titled Swing, Suzy Bogguss delves into contemporary jazz on her latest independent release, Sweet Danger, and once again, the title fits. While the musical arrangements are unfailingly sweet throughout the album, the lyrics enter some dangerous emotional territory. The result is a record that lulls you into complacency, then pulls the rug out from under you with its starkly confessional lyrics.
It doesn’t hurt that Bogguss, who has always been a clear-voiced singer with a gift for melody, also wields an incisive writer’s pen. Witness the raw emotion of “Even if That Were True”, where she warns a lover as they are nearing the end of their volatile relationship not to say that he loves her: “Even if that were true,” she muses, “what good would it do?” After all, “If all of the lies we’ve told weren’t enough to hold us here, I don’t see what good one more would do.”
Bogguss co-wrote one of the strongest tracks on the album, the dark and despondent “It’s Not Gonna Happen Today.” It finds the narrator hiding out in her house on an autumn afternoon, with the leaves piling up outside. “I don’t really want to face all the things I’ve left undone,” she confesses. “At least a thousand things…maybe only one.”
The lead single, “In Heaven”, is achingly beautiful, finding a widow asking her late husband’s blessing over the new love she has found. The minimal production and Bogguss’ crystal-clear vocal is sincere but not cloying sentimental or sappy, which works to the advantage of a subject matter that could easily be weighed down if not handled with grace and dignity.
The arrangements of the songs are subtle and low-key, allowing for the vocals to shine and the songs to work on their own merit, not through the bells-and-whistles of clever production. Bogguss covers Chicago’s “If You Leave Me Now” so simply that it reveals the gorgeous, simple song that was underneath the big eighties sound of the original, not unlike when Alison Krauss took the campy Foundations hit “Baby, Now That I’ve Found You” and transformed it into a whispered prayer.
The mood of this album doesn’t make it ideal for rolling the windows down and blasting it as you drive down the road, but if you have a quiet evening coming up, or you just need to put off “facing all the things you’ve left undone,” I recommend dimming the lights, pouring some wine and partaking in Sweet Danger. It’s her finest album since Something Up My Sleeve and showcases a deep part of her talent that’s been waiting to surface.
Buy: Sweet Danger