Sunny Sweeney: Concrete

Sunny Sweeney
(Republic Nashville)
Rating: ★★★★☆

As a modern country music singer with a retro streak, Sunny Sweeney walks a narrow tightrope laid out for females in the format. It’s a daunting challenge to court radio programmers and connect with a wide audience while maintaining your own distinct persona, but Sweeney’s persistence pays off on her second album, Concrete. The album is a winning mix of traditional and contemporary: her arrangements are often performed with pedal steel and electric guitar, and the age-old problems of infidelity and heavy drinking are represented with modern twists.

The foundation of Concrete was formed in the midst of Sweeney’s divorce, and the album explores the angry squabbles and long silences in a relationship before the final split. Reliving those memories surely made for a few long days at the office, but Sweeney lays all her cards on the table with her snappy Texas twang, a supple and commanding instrument that expresses the hardships she’s known. Her voice, more polished than on her 2007 debut Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame , grows harder as she slowly takes charge of her situation: “I don’t care who passes judgment on my reasons,” she offers in one exchange; in another, “I don’t mind takin’ the blame, baby, if it’s mine.”

Sweeney’s characters can still slip into bad habits. The project’s steel-laced first single, “From a Table Away,” is told from the perspective of the other woman, a role she also assumes on “Amy,” which may be the most tender song ever sung by a homewrecker. Despite all the mistakes in her past, Sweeney always sounds ready to meet one more challenge. With “Drink Myself Single,” she gets dressed in her Saturday best for a wild, rowdy night of barroom fun. One listen to her boozy, buoyant performance suggests she’s got more trouble up her sleeve.