Heartbreaker's Hall Of Fame
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Sunny Sweeney's debut disc is a refreshing slice of traditional honky tonk enlivened with a dollop of rock & roll energy. Sweeney comes off as a small town girl, full of charm and sass who gets up to perform with a local band. The differences are that she has a real talent for singing and a knack for selecting tunes. Hailing from the musically fertile East Texas, Sweeney's singing contains a hard Texas twang, which gives her voice a true sense of character. The young singer displays a veteran's skill in choosing her tunes. There are a couple tracks from ace Nashville songsmith Jim Lauderdale, who also duets with her on the Lucinda Williams-ish Keith Sykes-penned "Lavender Blue." She flashes her grit on the rocking cover of Libbi Bosworth's "East Texas Pines" and a rapid-fire take on Tim Carroll's "If I Could." She also more than holds her own on two of the better-known covers, the old Lacy J. Dalton hit "16th Avenue" and Iris DeMent's lovely "Mama's Opry." The latter tune, as well as Audrey Auld's marvelously self-deprecating number "Next Big Nothing" match up well with Sweeney's small town Texas gal personality. Sweeney's own tunes also deal with her themes of small town life and relationship troubles. On the memorable "Ten Years Pass," she revisits her old hometown and her old flame. The title track concerns an old high school boyfriend who "is in the heartbreaker's hall of fame...as today's main honoree." Her third original, "Slow Swinging Western Tunes," another tale of love gone bad, recalls the songs of Kasey Chambers, one of her heroes. Sweeney, who helped to produce this disc, shows an ample amount of confidence and composure on her first full-length. She has a strong idea of who she is as a singer and performer, and her instincts are proven correct on this impressive effort. It's not just an easy pun to proclaim that Sunny Sweeney has a bright future.
One spin through the debut of Austin-based singer-songwriter Sunny Sweeney and you may think you've entered a time warp: The Longview, Texas, native so hearkens to the honky-tonk era of the '60s and '70s that you half expect to find her on an old kinescope of one of those syndicated Nashville TV shows, the special guest ("Let's bring up a little gal now from Texas...") of the Wilburn Brothers or Porter and Dolly. Sweeney isn't a power vocalist--she'd be called a "girl singer" in the old days, stepping up demurely to do her song or two--but she's got a sense of humor, poking fun of herself on "Next Big Nothing" and insisting if you play one song in reverse, you get a broken heart. She can also cop an attitude when she wants, as on "Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame," an original tune where she evokes the good-ol'-gal assertiveness of Loretta Lynn. Sweeney has fine taste in covers, too, offering up Iris DeMent's 'Mama's Opry" and the Lacy J. Dalton hit "16th Avenue," as well as two songs by Jim Lauderdale, who lends his vocals to Keith Sykes's "Lavender Blue." Otherwise, Sweeney doesn't seem to care a flip about what's going on anyplace but right there in the Lone Star State, keeping things twangy, tangy, and tonkin', the teardrop pedal steel functioning almost as a duet vocalist, and her guitarists eschewing Music City formula riffs for stuttering electric solos and the occasional walking bass. It's been a long time since any young female--think Joy Lynn White, maybe--got this deep-dish country. Sweeney may never get on the radio, but she'll keep the sawdust swirling on the dance floor for a long time to come. --Alanna Nash
Top customer reviews
Sunny's voice should please fans looking for an authentic Country sound, and she brings an infectious enthusiasm to the songs, many of which pay tribute to the classic honky-tonk style that is often lost by contemporary mainstream radio acts.
Two of the songs are likely to be familiar to many Country fans - Iris Dement's "Mama's Opry" and Tom Schuyler's "16th Avenue" (best known from the version by Lacy J.Dalton). Both of these songs were written as tributes to the "spirit" of Country Music, and thus seem apt reflections of the inspiration for this album.
Another well-known name on the Americana scene - Jim Lauderdale - is well represented here. He co-wrote two of the songs: the strong opener "Refresh My Memory" and the outstanding "Please Be San Antone" (the later written with Emily Robison of the Dixie Chicks, and previously included on one of Jim Lauderdale's own albums). He also makes a guest vocal appearence on this album, duetting with Sunny on another of the highlights, "Lavender Blue".
"East Texas Pines" is a hard-driving rocking number that reflects Sunny's home region, while "Here Lately", a more reflective song, with a striking musical arrangement, is about someone returning to Texas by train. Two songs that show Sunny is not afraid to include some bold choices are the very fast-paced and vocally challenging "If I Could" (sung almost like an auctioneer calling at a sale), and the ironic "Next Big Nothing" - a brave theme for a debut album!
Of particular interest are three songs Sunny wrote herself. The title track "Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame" and the school reunion song "Ten Years Pass" both show a perceptive take on different emotions, but for me one of the most striking numbers on the album is "Slow Swinging Western Tunes" - a haunting song that stayed in my mind, both musically and lyrically.
Sunny has excellent support from her backing musicians: Tommy Detamore on Dobro, guitar, lap steel & pedal steel; Bobby Flores on fiddle & mandolin; Tom Lewis on percussion; Casper Rawls on guitar; and Ted Roddy on harmonica - together with harmony vocals from Gary Wayne Claxton & D.B. Harris.
This is an album which shows a real confidence in, and commitment to, Roots Country Music, and I strongly recommend it to anyone who loves the genre.
OK, it's easy to scoff at that remark - there are lots of young, attractive female country singers doing the rounds at the moment, but Sunny is something special. She writes songs - "Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame", "Ten Years Pass", and "Slow Swinging Western Tunes" are all hers, has already made some big friends (Jim Lauderdale joins her on "Lavender Blue", and wrote opener "Refresh My Memory" and co-wrote "Please Be San Antone", and fiddle player supreme, Bobby Flores, adds his usual sublime backing), and she sings like all your favourite country singers wrapped up in one parcel.
I can't praise this CD enough - I'm so glad it's now got a major label release and can finally be appreciated by a wider audience.
Watch out for Sunny playing a few dates in the UK this summer.
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