Sunny Sweeney has been quietly winning over critics and audiences alike ever since the release of her debut studio album, ‘Heartbreaker’s Hall Of Fame’, back in 2006. Now, with a further three records under her belt – including 2011’s ‘Concrete’, which produced the top 10 hit ‘From A Table Away – she’s back with her latest release, ‘Married Alone’, the follow-up to her 2017 release ‘Trophy’.
The 12-track LP opens with ‘Tie Me Up’, which sets the template for much of the rest of the album with its emphasis on traditional-sounding fiddle and twangy guitar melody. I loved the richness and drawl in Sweeney’s vocals as she sings about wanting her freedom and not committing to one person (‘you can tie me up but you can’t tie me down’), and the song has a ton of sass about it that adds to the playful, tongue-in-cheek feel. It’s got fantastic energy and provides a great start to
Much of the record was written in the aftermath of Sweeney’s divorce, and one thing which stood out to me was how brilliantly she captures the rollercoaster of emotions that a major break-up encompasses. She can switch so easily from the likes of the classic rock-influenced ‘Easy As Hello’, which balances a driving rhythm with devastatingly bittersweet lyrics, to the slowed-down, introspective ‘How’d I End Up Lonely Again’ so effortlessly. The latter song in particular really highlights the depth and huskiness in Sweeney’s voice, and the lush string melody enhances it brilliantly.
Among the early highlights is the title track, with its sparse arrangement and utterly heartbreaking delivery. Sweeney and her duet partner, the legendary Vince Gill, have such gorgeous harmonies throughout and they do a sterling job of conveying the rawness of knowing that your relationship is falling apart and there’s nothing you can do about it. It’s a vivid, stark gut-punch of a song and already an instant classic. I also loved her collaboration with her producer Paul Cauthen on the bittersweet, nostalgic ‘A Song Can’t Fix Everything’, which is a great testament to the power of music in bringing back memories, with its slapping beat and shuffling rhythm.
There’s also plenty of stylistic diversity to enjoy throughout the album. ‘Someday You’ll Call My Name’ is a complete contrast to the tracks it sits between, with its rapid-fire melody, punchy drums and kiss-off energy as Sweeney sings about wanting the satisfaction of her lover coming back. Elsewhere, the stomping ‘Want You To Miss Me’ has a driving down a desert highway vibe and a real sense of empowerment from Sweeney’s delivery and ‘All I Don’t Need’ pairs a heavy, discordant melody with vivid details of Neil Young playing on a turbulent trip to the mountains. I particularly liked ‘Wasting One On You’, which manages to be both rollicking and downbeat at the same time, with its layered trumpets, organ and gospel-esque backing vocals adding a jazzy quality that enhances the smokiness in Sweeney’s voice and the anthemic feel of the chorus.
For me the standout song is the piano-led ‘Fool Like Me’. It’s a gorgeous, introspective song that sees Sweeney reflecting on the mistakes she made in her previous relationship and taking responsibility for her actions, with a feeling that put me in mind of some of Elton John’s 70s classics like ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’. There’s a real frankness to how Sweeney talks about her shortcomings, yet her subdued delivery stops it from being self-indulgent, and I loved the haunting background vocals and sweeping strings on top.
Sweeney closes the record with the bluesy, knowing ‘Leaving Is My Middle Name’ – featuring the excellent line ‘I’m a chance you don’t wanna take’ and some incredibly powerful vocals – before moving into ‘Still Here’. The final song is a gorgeous, acoustic-led ode to the power of resilience and persistence, putting the emphasis firmly on Sweeney’s vocals and with a raw, open quality that really strengthens the connection with the listener.. It’s fantastically honest and leaves you feeling like you’ve gone through every step of the journey with her, before finally emerging in a positive place on the other side.
Overall ‘Married Alone’ is one of the standout records of the year for me so far. Sweeney’s brilliant storytelling and distinctive vocals throughout, along with her blend of traditional country, blues and 70s California rock, make this an album that needs to be explored in depth and that is an incredibly powerful piece of work. She really takes you along for the emotional ride with her and, whilst you feel like you’ve gone through the wringer by the end, it also feels tremendously uplifting. I can’t wait to see what she does next and hope it won’t be too long before she’s back in the UK, because these are songs that deserve to be heard live.
Track listing: 1. Tie Me Up 2. Easy As Hello 3. Married Alone (featuring Vince Gill) 4. Someday You’ll Call My Name 5. How’d I End Up Lonely Again 6. A Song Can’t Fix Everything (featuring Paul Cauthen) 7. Want You To Miss Me 8. Wasting One On You 9. Fool Like Me 10. All I Don’t Need 11. Leaving Is My Middle Name 12. Still Here Record label: Aunt Daddy Records/Thirty Tigers Release date: 23rd September 2022