4 out of 5 stars
Even when Texas singer/songwriter Sunny Sweeney was signed to major labels, she exhibited a feisty streak that didn’t entirely fit with the commercial radio sound her handlers likely wanted her to succeed in. That doesn’t lessen the quality of “From a Table Away,” her first smash from 2011, but it’s clear that she was a better fit for a more indie approach.
That move was made in 2014 with the tighter edge of Provoked, a challenging set that brought a more rocking sound and sassy attack, specifically in songs like “Bad Girl Phase” (I don’t wanna be sorry for all the hell I raise) and the needs-no-explanation of “Everyone Else Can Kiss My Ass.”
The 2017 release of Trophy consolidated that newfound freedom with reflective, universal lyrics over a mix of classic twang and swamp rock. Five years later she notches another success with the similarly styled Married Alone.
As its title implies, this is a breakup album, albeit one that often concerns the awkward period after a marriage has gone sour. Bringing Paul Cauthen and the Texas Gentleman’s Beau Bedford in to co-produce helps Sweeney further herself from those earlier, slicker radio hits. Jumping out with the grizzled Waylon stomp of “Tie Me Up,” where the singer takes the voice of a woman defiantly looking only for a one-night stand, sets the tone.
Sweeney’s mix of roots rock, country, and singer/songwriter concepts resonates throughout. Whether she’s reflecting on the disintegrated relationship (“Easy as Hello,” “Leaving Is My Middle Name”), pushing into the tough tone of a reluctant love song (“All I Don’t Need”), or yet another love ‘em and leave ‘em experience from a woman’s point of view (“Wasting One on You”), Sweeney’s voice conveys a combination of sensitivity and brashness perfect for the material’s darker themes.
The mood gets somber on “A Song Can’t Fix Everything” with its forlorn pedal steel underlying the words of loneliness and isolation where she explains how important one tune is for rejuvenating your temperament during depressing times. For the title track, Vince Gill provides harmonies on the bittersweet weeper, one of only two selections not co-penned by Sweeney. She gets spirited again on the self-descriptive “Want You to Miss Me” (I don’t want you back/I just want you to miss me) as Bedford’s baritone guitar vibrates and the organ adds more punch.
Closing with the acoustic “Still Here” reaffirms her resolute qualities with the same defiant stance as Jackson Browne’s “I’m Alive,” although from a woman’s point of view. It caps an album as musically potent and lyrically forthright as anything in her catalog, and one of the more powerful statements from any female artist in her genre this year.
Photo Courtesy IVPR