Editor’s Note: I honestly hate giving background information a lot of the time, especially when I’m unfamiliar with the artist. This time is different however, so buckle up. It’s story time.
I had a lot of expectations coming into this album. I’m not even just talking about the pre-release tracks either. I’ve been a fan of Sunny Sweeney ever since she completed the now impossible task of being a female who pushed her debut single, “From A Table Away” up to the top ten at country radio, especially since the song actually sounded (gasp) like it belonged in the format. I was a wee lad then, ignorant that there was any music that could exist beyond the radio, and so I was sad to see Sunny never truly break out the way she deserved to.
But as acts like Aaron Watson, Cody Jinks, and Margo Price have taught us, who gives a shit about radio anyway? There IS a thriving underground scene, and while not every act is gold (or even close), there’s “a world going on outside the world that we’re in”. That’s why in 2014 I was flabbergasted to hear that Sunny had a number one hit. “What? Where?!? Oh shit, there’s a chart for Texas Country acts”?!? That’s not the entirety of my “awakening” but you get the picture. Needless to say I’ve loved all of her albums, and when I heard the pre-release tracks, I was extremely excited for this.
Now on to the actual review…
Trophy may honestly be Sunny Sweeney’s best work – plain and simple. As I sit and type this, I’m glancing over at the back of my CD and looking at the list of co-writers as well as people who contributed to this record in other ways. Sure, it’s not necessarily breaking new ground for Sunny, but this album really shows her stepping up her game in all areas, and the result is one of the best albums of 2017 thus far.
To go back to the writers for a minute though, some of the names will instantly put a smile on your face like Lori McKenna, Brennen Leigh, and Caitlyn Smith. But there’s one more name we need to mention – Sunny Sweeney. It’s nothing short of impressive that she had a hand in co-writing eight of the ten tracks here, especially considering one song is a relatively well known cover anyway. Again, the most impressive fact is that her writing has really improved this time around (and that’s not saying it was bad before, it was great actually. This is just another step above, so kudos on that end).
What I love about this album is that Sunny takes some well worn themes in country music and puts her own personal stamp on them, like the tear in my beer opener “Pass The Pain”. She’s aware her heavy drinking is wrong and that she’ll pay for it later, but she doesn’t care, she needs it. It’s the assertiveness, and the awareness that really drive it forward (the pedal steel helps too). Of course, if you want assertiveness you’ll get it on the more dusty, grimy tracks like “Better Bad Idea”, “Pills”, and “Trophy”, which add nice moments of balance and fun (while still being 1.) standouts, and 2.) well written tracks) to an otherwise deep and insightful album.
Going back to the personal stamp point though, it really shines through on tracks like “Nothing Wrong With Texas” where Sunny realizes she didn’t need to leave home after all to find happiness, or “Grow Old With Me” which takes the whole love theme and adds to it by having compelling lyricism and a great hook to boot (“grow old with me, I’ll keep you young forever”).
Of course, if you really want to talk about deep and insightful, you have it first with the Jerry Jeff Walker cover of “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” (which Sunny nails by the way), but you also have it with the album standouts “Bottle By My Bed” and “Unsaid”.
They’re both heartbreaking, but for different reasons. The former tells of Sunny’s desire to have a baby one day, and again, what really sets this apart is the writing – detailing the desire sure, but also detailing the pain that it brings her to not have a baby. Speaking of pain though, we need to talk about “Unsaid”, which tells of an old flame of Sunny’s who died, exploring the relationship between the two and how they ended on bad terms. Again though, it’s the little details such as pushing off the need to apologize and make things right until it’s too late that really gets to me.
In short, this is an incredible album from Sunny Sweeney. I honestly don’t have any outright criticisms for this, although I guess if my hand was forced and I had to nitpick (as I always do), I’d say that it’s a little too short, especially since we haven’t heard any new music from Sunny since 2014. That’s more of a general criticism than MY criticism if that makes sense. I’d argue that the length is actually perfect, not going overboard with any unnecessary filler. It’s just right. I wish more artists went this route honestly. My wish on Twitter to be delivered an album that blew me away was delivered this week with Rhiannon Giddens, and it was just delivered again with Trophy.
Editor’s note – I normally hate posting “reviews” before the actual song or album is out, but there’s a reason I’m not posting this on Friday, which you’ll see tomorrow. However, you can stream the album in its entirety right here so get to it.