Tag Archives: Sunny Sweeney

Some Second Impressions of 2017 Albums

Before I get to the flurry of year-end lists, I’d like to address a few things I’ve got significantly different opinions on now than when they were first reviewed. The rating is not the important thing to focus on with these year-end lists because certain things hold up over time better than others, and you will find some albums high on that list that weren’t rated as highly originally. Music changes over time, as do our reactions to it, and there are albums I’ve both overrated and underrated in 2017. This post will reflect these and hopefully shed some light on the upcoming albums list.

Albums I’ve Underrated

Robyn Ludwick–This Tall to Ride
I even said this during my midyear list, but the main reason for the underrating of this was I doubted its ability to be replayed over time, but it holds up quite well and continues to get better. Originally a 7.5, this would get a strong 8 now.

Tyler Childers–Purgatory
This just gets better with each listen. Some albums this year were great at first but had no sustainability (see below.) This still really doesn’t have one defining song, but it’s great all the way through and is one of the best albums of the year. It’s also my most played, with the possible exception of Colter Wall’s self-titled release.

Crystal Bowersox–Alive
I don’t care that this is a live album. I don’t care that a bit of the material appears on Crystal’s previous records. If there is one album I could recommend to all you critics that I see getting criminally overlooked, that I wish you would pull off your back burners and give a proper review to and consideration of in your endless lists, it’s this one. And I’ll go ahead and say it–this is the best album vocally of the year, bar none.

Zephaniah Ohora–This Highway
This one was done by Brianna, and she gave it a 9, as it rightfully deserves, but I have to say, it took me months to come around to this. And this is a brilliant album, definitely one of the best of the year.

Albums I’ve Overrated

And now for the controversial bits of this piece…

Willie Nelson–God’s Problem Child
Still a great listen, but it doesn’t have much staying power or relatability. I don’t really know what else to say.

Sunny Sweeney–Trophy
Look, I know this is high on a lot of year-end lists, and it’s a good record. It’s just, for me, not her best record. It was the album I was most looking forward to in early 2017 because I am a huge Sunny Sweeney fan, and taken as an album, there’s not much to criticize. But it hasn’t held up at all…I wish I could say more, and I did enjoy some of these songs better live, but this just didn’t stay with me.

Chris Stapleton–From a Room, Vol. 1
I’ve said it already, but if Stapleton had combined these releases, this would be a different story. As it is, we’ve got two decent albums, both with some filler, and neither with too much longevity.

Angaleena Presley–Wrangled
This is still one of the best albums of the year, but I would not give it a 10/10 if reviewing today. Still one of the top 5, maybe 3 albums of the year, but I’d have to pull back slightly from that perfect grade.

I’ve got some slightly different opinions on several other albums this year, but these are the most significant and will be most reflected in the year-end list. Above all, music is meant to be enjoyed and played, and these ratings ultimately mean nothing if the music doesn’t hold up throughout the year. I’ve tried to be less rigid in my opinions this year than in the past, and these changes are honest reflections of that. I look forward to sharing all the year-end lists with you all!

Highlights from Medicine Stone 2017

It’s a great thing as a proud Oklahoman to see what the Turnpike Troubadours and Jason Boland have started in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, with Medicine Stone. It’s a wonderful three-day experience of music and fellowship on the Illinois River, and I recommend going if you like Texas and Red Dirt music, or even just live music in general. The people are great too, and I was glad to go back for a second year. Last year, I tried to cover as many bands as possible–though it is physically impossible to see all of them because some of them play on different stages at the same time–so this time, I wanted to write something a little different. I thought overall, the fifth Medicine Stone was even better than the fourth, and I really enjoyed almost everyone I saw. So rather than reiterating that for a bunch of different artists, I thought I’d highlight some of the lesser known artists that impressed me, and maybe introduce some of you to their music. We all know Randy Rogers and Boland and Turnpike can put on a good show–that’s why they were the three headliners–so I want to focus more on some of the other names. (Also, if you want to see me gushing about Turnpike’s live performance ability, you’ll likely get that in a month when I attend their album release party.) Anyway, the point to be taken here is that I probably enjoyed artists I’m leaving off this list–these are just some that stood out and deserve some recognition.

Suzanne Santo

Medicine Stone came under some fire in 2016 for only having two women on the lineup. This was taken into account, and several more women were included on the 2017 list, many of them highlights of the whole weekend. I didn’t know Suzanne Santo before she took the main stage to open things Thursday night, but I am a fan now. She has a new album out that you will find a review for shortly.

Shane Smith & the Saints

Friends, if you’re not listening to Shane Smith & the Saints, you’re doing it all wrong. One of the best things I saw both last year and this year. Phenomenal harmonies, ridiculous fiddle playing, good songwriting, interesting production…just get on board with this band. Massively underrated. I don’t know why more people aren’t writing about them. And for the ones who are already in on the awesomeness, go see them live. Also, you’ll be glad to know they are working on a new record!

Shinyribs

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Shinyribs aren’t going to be for everyone, as proven by my cousin’s reaction to this. But they should be, and I do hope they will keep coming back to Medicine Stone. I’ve been wanting to see them live since I discovered their latest album, and yeah, it lives up to everything you hear about it. Just fun. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and I like that. Get on board with them as well.

Sunny Sweeney

This was Sunny Sweeney’s first time at Medicine Stone, and all I can say is, please bring her back. One of the best performers as far as the more country side of Red Dirt goes. And really good interaction with us all. Also, just saying, she needs to record that lovely song she sang for us called “Whiskey Richard.” Just saying. She said it won’t get cut, but I think it should. I’d also like to point out that as a huge Sunny Sweeney fan but not necessarily a huge Trophy fan, I actually liked the songs from that album much better after hearing them live. Her personality made them come alive a lot more onstage.

Red Shahan

I’d like to apologize to the entire Medicine Stone community for not seeing Red Shahan last year–as I said, it’s physically impossible to see everyone, but I heard a lot of people tell me I should have seen him, and you know what? They were right. Good Lord, this is just a cool artist. Just as I said Sunny stood out among the more country artists, Red Shahan stood out among the artists with more rock leanings. He definitely needs to come back.

jaime lin wilson

Jamie Lin Wilson

Jamie Lin Wilson played at a smaller stage this year, and I was upset at first because she’d been on the main stage in 2016–but she shines in this intimate setting. She was one of the standouts last year, and she was even better this time. Also, I may have gotten to hear a song she wrote that Evan Felker added a verse to, and yes, it will be on the new Turnpike album. And Jamie Lin, we need some more new music from you soon.

Kaitlin Butts

The opposite of what I said about Jamie Lin applies to Kaitlin Butts–she was moved from a smaller stage to the main stage, and this is much better for her. All that attitude and energy is freer in this setting. She said she’s been to Medicine Stone all five years, and she should keep coming. Another one of these that’s massively underrated. Maybe not quite as much now after her song with Flatland Cavalry, but still. Get to know her, she’s one of Oklahoma’s best-kept secrets.

Jason Boland & the Stragglers

Okay, I’m breaking my own rule. Last year, Turnpike blew me away,and this year it was Jason Boland, and even though I’m trying to focus on lesser-known artists, I can’t ignore the outstanding live show that Jason Boland & the Stragglers put on. Best headliner I saw, and a tie between this and Shane Smith & the Saints for the best thing I heard all weekend. Something especially sweet when you get to sit there as an Oklahoman watching an Oklahoma-based band absolutely murdering the song “If I Ever Get Back to Oklahoma.”

Album Review: Jon Wolfe’s Any Night in Texas is One Giant Cliché

Rating: 3.5/10

Remember when I said in Texas, just like Nashville, there are basically two paths? One is the more serious, singer-songwriter path, and the other is the more commercial one, and neither are inherently awful. In fact, I like Aaron Watson’s latest record just fine; that’s a fun, uncomplicated album, and there are a few deeper songs sprinkled in as well. But the point is, I’m not criticizing Jon Wolfe and Any Night in Texas because it’s not some groundbreaking Texas country masterpiece–it’s just that it’s one cliché after another, and instead of being fun and lighthearted, it’s mostly just generic bullshit. And if it came out of Nashville, we’d all be saying so, but since it’s Texas-flavored, we hesitate–but if I’m going to sit here and praise the considerable amount of good pouring out of Texas and Oklahoma, I also can’t ignore the bad that comes with it.

It’s not as if Jon Wolfe hasn’t made safe, commercial-sounding Texas country before, but the amount of moonlit back roads and riding shotgun all over this record would rival that on some of Luke Bryan’s albums–also, I thought bro country had died? And when I said Texas-flavored, just look at the title; “any night in Texas” is perfect here because it’s all the worn-out clichés of mainstream country, plus songs like “Boots on a Dance floor” to make the album more Texan. But just because it’s more Texan, that doesn’t mean it’s more (dare I say it) authentic–just because Wolfe says in the title track that wild kisses on back roads can happen “any night in Texas,” are we supposed to think this is any better or more original than mainstream songs saying the same damn thing? And if we’re not on back roads, you guessed it, we’re in clubs and bars. “Airport Kiss” is essentially a request by this guy in a bar to have his girlfriend make out with him right there as if they were in the airport, or as if he were about to go to war. And then there’s “A Country Boy’s Life Well-Lived,” which wastes some truly great fiddle on pandering lyrics about a hard-working man; we get “cold beer,” “boots,” “American made”–you get the picture.

Sunny Sweeney arrives on the heartbreak song “Drink for Two,” and I felt sure her appearance would save this track. She does make it better, but even this is a little of a letdown; the song is saying that the only good thing about losing each other is that they can now drink twice as much. To be fair to this song, I think it could have been better with more interesting production…and that leads me to my next point.

There’s nothing wrong with making fun songs and albums, and look, clichés aren’t always the end of the world. It’s just that if you’re going for this, you need to make the production lively and interesting, and through most of this record, it’s anything but that. I heard it described as stiff, and that’s a great way to put it; if you’re going to make songs like this, at least do it right. And this goes even more for Texas artists than Nashville artists because Texas artists have such a commitment to live music. I don’t even think these songs would sound interesting live.

So, the brightest spots here are the aforementioned “Drink for Two” and the closer, “Long Song.” I did think sunny Sweeney would have made the former a highlight, but like I said, the production really took that song down. Still, that one is at least more interesting. “Long Song” is another one in a club or a bar, but it’s got a better premise, as the narrator is hoping for more time to spend with this woman, but if it’s their last dance at the end of the night, he at least wants it to be a long song. This one, again, is more interesting, and it tries to go a little deeper than the surface.

There are a couple of other brighter moments on the album too, and right now you might be wondering why I didn’t just feature some of this in “Memorable Songs.” Well, several reasons. One, even the brighter moments are honestly not memorable, and I don’t think I’ll return to any of this. Two, because Texas artists and independent artists should be judged equally with the mainstream, and if this came out of Nashville, we’d all be quick to criticize it. It’s not better just because it came out of Texas. Three, honest criticism from me adds to the validity of my praise of artists within the Texas scene, and when I say John Baumann made a damn good record, you can believe that and not question whether I’m biased toward Texas and Red Dirt music. And finally, and most importantly, because Texas artists can learn a lesson from Nashville; you have freedom to be yourself in the Texas scene, so use it. Don’t try to cater to trends, it usually always fails spectacularly. Be a Jason Eady or be an Aaron Watson, but don’t be something you’re not, especially when you don’t have to in order to please some label–it’s not the lighthearted material on this album that kills it, it’s the clichés, the way it sounds fake, and perhaps most of all, the way Jon Wolfe just sounds bored here. I don’t care what type of artist Jon Wolfe wants to be, but it’s obvious this record isn’t him, and at the end of the day, I just want to hear Jon Wolfe. I wish I heard him on Any Night in Texas, and I’m sorry to say I don’t.

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The Decent

The Texas-Flavored Cliché

Reflecting on: Pistol Annies–Hell on Heels

IN light of the new Angaleena Presley album coming out Friday, I thought it fitting to reflect this week on the debut from a group that broke up entirely too soon, the Pistol Annies.

Release Date: 2011
Style: traditional country
Who Might Like This album: fans of traditional country, fans of any of the solo work by Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, or Angaleena Presley, fans of Sunny Sweeney
Standout Tracks: “Hell on Heels,” “Bad Example,” “Beige,” “housewife’s Prayer,” “Lemon Drop”
Reflections: Man, what an interesting album. Definitely more traditional than any Miranda Lambert album, it gave this group instant success and critical acclaim in 2011 and was, for me, a better album than Miranda’s Four the Record, released later that year. Consisting of Ashley Monroe, Lambert, and angaleena Presley, Pistol Annies made a name for themselves telling the stories of real people in real-life situations. There’s the Monroe-led “Beige,” a story of a shotgun wedding. There’s “Lemon Drop,” led by Presley, where the narrator speaks of better days as she tries to pay off her TV and buys curtains from the thrift store. There’s “Housewife’s Prayer,” a contemplative track where the main character casually considers burning down her house for the insurance money. Everything here is real and raw, and all these songs were written by the women in this group. This project was quite unpolished, and yet the quality of the music, the stories being told, and the incredible harmonies here made this album something beautiful and to be remembered. I am glad the success of the annies launched the solo careers of Ashley and angaleena, but here’s to hoping the group reunites sooner rather than later.

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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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