While most of the UK, myself included, has frantically been counting down the days to C2C, there’s also another reason I’ve been tapping my fingers impatiently for the 10th of March to come round. Namely that this Friday marks the release of Sunny Sweeney’s fourth studio album, titled Trophy. And boy is it a trophy of an album to grace any record collection.
Indeed, whether you’re looking to raise hell on heels or break your own heart, Sunny has been my gal of choice since the days of From a Table Away. This album is no different in that sense, although it may be the most authentic, hard-hitting assembly of stone-cold country songs she has released yet.
Even if you’re not already a passionate Sunny fan with a love for her brand of sassy one-liners, all you need to do is take a look at the track-listing. Produced by Grammy nominee Dave Brainard, who worked on Brandy Clark’s 12 Stories, the record contains a whole four co-writes with Belles and Gals favourite Lori McKenna, who recently collected one Grammy win and several nominations at the 2017 ceremony.
And I must admit, it is a Lori McKenna co-write that is my absolute stand out track of the album. Bottle By My Bed is an agonising, heart-wrenching country ballad that describes Sunny’s longing to have a child. It’s one of the bravest and most original songs I’ve ever heard, and it has already brought me to tears several times – I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Sunny to record it, yet alone play it live. Almost impossible to choose a lyric to showcase, this one is vocally performed to perfection: “I only call my husband baby cause I love that word / never wanted something so bad, that it hurts / even give up these damned old cigarettes / if I could have a bottle by my bed.”
The title track Trophy and Better Bad Idea bring out the bad-ass, sassy, Sunny that I love to identify with when I break out the whiskey for a night on the town. Trophy reclaims that insult of being called a trophy wife and spins it right back around at her husband’s ex: “He’s got a trophy now for putting up with you”. Better Bad Idea is an up-beat, dark-hearted rockabilly tune which kicks off with the explosive and unapologetic line: “Let’s wash our dirty minds with a bottle of white wine and do some things we can’t take back.”
However, heartbreak is always just around with the corner with Sunny and that’s why listening to an album like this is nothing less than an emotional rollercoaster. Unsaid was written following the suicide of a friend and is a painful and gut-wrenching ballad about the things gone unsaid – another tune oozing of galpower, it was co-written with rising star Caitlyn Smith. On the similarly plaintive song Pass the Pain we are stunned not just by Sunny’s pure and raw vocals accompanied only by steel guitar and piano in the beginning, but also by guest vocalist Trisha Yearwood’s beautiful tone on the choruses. Sunny’s taken the modern country drinking song and forced it to grow up into a beautiful and timeless classic country song: “And if my money’s still good / do your job like you should / slide some more hurting on me / just pass the pain.”
While two of the tracks are covers, it’s almost impossible to tell given how well they fit into the whole album story. They’re honest and clever songs, right up Sunny’s alleyway. I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight is penned by Chris Wall and Pills by Sunny’s friend and frequent collaborator Brennen Leigh. Pills is another bad-ass song that takes on addiction with a dose of comedy that made me think of Pistol Annies.
Trophy is definitely an album that lives up to and should exceed the critical acclaim of Sunny’s previous album Provoked. With the current success of lyrically excellent and sassy women such as Margo Price, Brandy Clack, Kacey Musgraves and Miranda Lambert, I can only hope it will also achieve the commercial success that both the record but also Sunny so desperately deserves. While Sunny received a nod from the Academy of Country Music in 2013 where she was nominated for Best New Female Vocalist, after 15 years on the circuit and four excellent albums, could this be the one that takes the metal for mantelpiece? If so, one thing’s for sure, the title couldn’t be more appropriate.
Trophy is my album of the year (so far at least) – to find out whether it will be yours too, head to sunnysweeney.com for purchase options.
Review written by Nathalie Larsen