Tag Archives: Jerry Jeff Walker

Album Review: Sunny Sweeney–Trophy

Rating: 8.5/10

If Sunny Sweeney is a name you’ve never heard of, or maybe only know from that one top ten hit from a few years ago, “From a Table Away,” you should get to know her. Aside from that one hit, she has had little mainstream success but has gained significant recognition in the Texas scene, becoming the first woman to have back-to-back #1 singles on the Texas Music Chart in 2015.

Read: Female Fridays: featuring Sunny Sweeney

Having enjoyed all three of her previous albums and especially loving the last two, concrete and Provoked, this was one of the 2017 releases I was most anticipating. Well, after listening to it, I can say Sunny Sweeney has delivered us another great record.

The album opener, “Pass the Pain,” is a real, honest look at drinking to cope with heartbreak. The narrator knows the consequences but still tells the bartender to do their job and keep the drinks coming. That theme of knowing the consequences permeates the album, making the lighthearted “better Bad Idea” and “Pills” fun moments because the consequences can’t be ignored. “Better Bad Idea” is a complete acknowledgement that various things such as getting drunk and high aren’t the best ideas, but that isn’t stopping the people in the song. “Pills” sees the narrator confronting an old friend about their previous addictions to well, pills, and wondering if that friend is still addicted. She freely admits to thinking about it all the time even after having been clean for years. Sunny Sweeney has a knack for making songs like this fun and honest. That lighthearted honesty makes the title track a highlight of the record. I heard “Trophy” two years ago when Sunny opened for Miranda Lambert, and I’ve been eager to see it on an album ever since. It’s about the ex-wife of Sunny’s husband calling her a trophy wife, to which she responds, “He’s got a trophy now for putting up with you.” This is one you really need to listen to; case in point, it stuck with me for two years.

As I said, Sunny Sweeney is adept at being honest in her writing, and that comes through on serious tracks as well. An understated highlight of the album is “Grow old With Me,” a love song in which she states, “If I had one regret it’s that I didn’t find you sooner” but asserts that “Love don’t give a damn about time” and is content to grow old with her lover. Another highlight of the record is “Bottle by my Bed,” a heartbreaking song about how much Sweeney longs for a baby, and how even though her friends who have children are jealous of her lifestyle, she would give it all up to have a family. This is the kind of honesty that country music should be embracing. This is an artist being vulnerable and sharing a part of herself with listeners through her music. Another vulnerable moment is the album closer, “Unsaid.” Here, Sweeney sings of all the things left unsaid between her and someone who has just died. She wishes she could have apologized and regrets that there isn’t any time left for such things. The stripped-back instrumentation on this song really allows Sunny to bring out the raw emotion of the lyrics. She also conveys that emotion well on the cover of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight,” making it seem like her own.

Two songs that didn’t stand out for me as much are “Nothing Wrong with Texas” and “Why People Change.” The former has some nice fiddle and tells of all the great things about Texas. It’s elevated because it speaks of Sunny leaving before she realized how much she appreciated it, so it’s unique and once again honest, but even though it’s solid,, it’s another one of a thousand solid songs about Texas. I think this one will resonate with other listeners more than it did with me. The latter is another solid song about divorce and where the narrator and her ex are now, but again, it doesn’t stand out as much as some of the other tracks. Still, there’s not a bad song on this record, and none of it feels like filler either.

Once again, this is a great album from Sunny Sweeney. From the more traditional country tracks like “Pass the pain” to the more upbeat, Texas country offerings like “Pills,” production and instrumentation are definite high points of this record. Also, you will not want for fiddle and steel, so that is a bonus. Even more than that, though, the lyrics set this album apart. Trophy is filled with honest, clever songwriting, and it should be noted that Sweeney had a hand in writing eight of these ten tracks, an accomplishment that is refreshing in music today. Fans of traditional country, Texas country, or just honest songwriting, go check out this album and Sunny Sweeney.

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Album Review: Randy Rogers Band–Nothing Shines Like Neon

Rating: 9/10

Following the excellent 2015 collaboration with Wade Bowen, Hold my Beer, Volume 1, Randy Rogers is back with his band for Nothing Shines Like Neon. This album marks the return of the Randy Rogers Band to Texas after some albums in Nashville, and it was preceeded with news that it would be an album of traditional country, complete with appearances by Alison Krauss and Jerry Jeff Walker. Well, the album is available today, and I can safely say it lived up to its expectations, and it is the first great album of 2016.

The album opens with “San Antone,” a nice ode to Texas that celebrates coming back after their years away. Songs about Texas are common in Texas country, but this one stands out after the band’s years in Nashville and works perfectly. It is a fitting opener for the album, and right away I can see that the promise of traditional country rings true. Fiddle, steel, and acoustic guitar are prominent here, and will continue to be throughout the album. “Rain and the Radio” is a catchy, upbeat song about a couple enjoying being with each other when the power is out. They don’t need anything but the rain and the radio; this doesn’t stand out as one of the best songs on the album, but it is a song that gets better with each listen and earns its place quietly. “Neon Blues,” the album’s first single, is a classic song about a woman in a bar drinking away the pain of a past relationship. Much like “Rain and the Radio,” this one is catchy and gets better with each listen. It is unclear here whether the narrator is the one who hurt her, the bartender, or just someone in the bar, but he has observed this woman and is advising someone else not to waste his time pursuing her. It was certainly a good single choice.

“Things I Need to Quit” sees a man listing all the habits he needs to rid himself of: alcohol, cigarettes, but most importantly, the woman who has him in this position. Randy Rogers sings of a girl who is getting dressed and waiting for a cab–“she looks a lot like you, ain’t that a shame. Girl, I’m all messed up, and you’re to blame.” It’s a very honest and relatable song that will connect with many. “Look Out Yonder” is one of the best songs on the album. Featuring Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski, it tells the story from a brother’s point of view, as he looks out at the road and sees his wayward brother finally coming home, guitar strapped to his back. The instrumentation, lyrics, and harmonies blend beautifully in this song, and it is really one that you should hear. “Tequila Eyes” sees the narrator seeking out his friend, who is trying to find comfort in a bar. Apparently this is quite unlike her, and this narrator is broken, trying to tell her that tequila won’t hide the pain. Randy Rogers delivers the emotion in this song wonderfully, and the fiddle in this song is excellent. After the rawness of “Tequila Eyes” comes the expertly placed “Taking it as it Comes.” This is one of the most fun moments on the album, and the fiddles and rock guitars on this song remind me of a Turnpike Troubadours track. Jerry Jeff Walker is featured here, and basically this song is just about taking life as it comes and not letting life get to you; it’s just a fun song.

“Old Moon New” is probably the best song on Nothing Shines Like Neon. Here, a man sings about writing a woman clich├ęd love letters and giving her eleven roses “just to shake it up.” He says he knows that “there’s nothing new under that old moon” but “girl, you make that old moon new.” It’s a beautiful song and stands out in contrast to all the songs about back roads and moonlight we’ve been hearing from mainstream country music. “Meet Me Tonight” is another standout on this album; it reminds me of an earlier Randy Rogers Band song, “One More Goodbye.” Here, a man is asking an old love to meet up with him one last time; he knows it won’t last, but he still misses her. The Randy Rogers Band really seem to have a knack for capturing the emotion in these types of songs, and I think this is one that while having the unfortunate placement after “Old Moon New” will surpass it in quality with more listens.

“Actin’ Crazy” is an instant personal favorite. If “Old Moon New” is the best serious song, this song is the most witty. Featuring Jamey Johnson–has Jamey Johnson ever lent his voice to a bad song?–this song tells the story of a man writing a letter back home to Texas, presumably from L.A. or some other city. This man is living a life that is “one chaotic wreck” and knows he is getting nowhere. Some of my favorite lyrics are present here, among them “these folks make me proud to be from Texas” and “the rent’s as high as Willie.” This song also makes me ready for that Jamey Johnson album we’ve been hearing about forever. The album closes with “Pour one for the Poor One,” your classic country song about a man drinking away his troubles after his woman has left him. They promised traditional country, and this song is a perfect way to close an album of such music.

Overall, this is a truly enjoyable album. The Randy Rogers Band balance serious and fun songs well, and the light and dark material combine to make this an album that is not only critically great, but listenable and relatable as well. They promised an album of traditional country, and that is what this album delivers. Nothing Shines Like Neon is a great start to 2016 for country music.

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