My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Album Review: Sunny Sweeney – ‘Heartbreaker’s Hall Of Fame’

Sunny Sweeney began her performing career as a student of improv comedy in New York City.  Fortunately for country music fans, her fellow classmates encouraged her to first pursue a career in music.  After that, Sunny retreated to her Texas hometown, before she made the move to Austin and began playing the local honky tonk circuit.  She was soon writing her own songs and landed a spot on an international tour with Dwight Yoakam.  In 2007, Big Machine Records signed Sweeney to the label and issued her first album, Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame.  Three singles were released, all of which failed to chart.

Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame was recorded at Cherry Ridge Studio in Floresville, Texas, far from Music Row.  It’s no wonder the set failed to generate any radio hits given the album’s overall sound and running themes.  That she really honed her chops playing the honky tonks is evident in both the aesthetic and the themes present in the lyrics here as Texas roadhouse country seems to the most common recurring musical theme among a littering of influences of honky-tonk, traditional country, and embracing Nashville renegades.

‘Refresh My Memory’ is a straight-up country, drown-in-your-sorrows number where the narrator is returning to one of her ex-boyfriends because she knows he’ll at least light a spark in her, even if she knows he’s wrong for her.  It’s been an awful long time since she felt the spark this guy brings to her, or perhaps since she’s felt any sparks at all, and here she implores him to jog her memory a bit

There are plenty of two-steps and genuine barroom honky-tonk with tracks like ‘East Texas Pines’, a rocking lament to days gone by and your current location.  The album’s title track was perhaps its best shot at a mainstream country radio hit, but even it was a long shot. Sunny’s charming drawl, coupled with layers of steel guitar, walking bass lines, and some saucy harmonica playing, keep it firmly rooted in traditional country; radical, you know.  ‘If I Could’ moves at breakneck speed – and shows Sunny to be capable as an auctioneer if nothing else – in a knee-slapping good time of a song.

Proving Sweeney to be a singer’s singer – a characteristic that almost always means quality but also means no commercial appeal for some reason – this album has more than its share of insider songs about the music industry, and even more that just plain espouse the virtues and importance of music to the mind and soul.  ‘Next Big Nothing’ tells of a singer’s struggles and frustrations with the slow pace of success while ‘Slow Swinging Western Tunes’ sings both the praises and the curses of sweet dance hall numbers – ‘play them in reverse and you get yourself a broken heart’.

Perhaps telling where those ambitions got rooted is Iris Dement’s stunning ‘Mama’s Opry’, a simple and hauntingly beautiful reminiscence of a young lady thinking back to her childhood and the sounds of the Grand Ole Opry. With little more than a mournful fiddle behind her twangy, restrained vocal, she tells of all the wonderful sounds that came from her mama’s radio.

Closing the set is the fitting ’16th Avenue’, a Lacy J. Dalton hit in the early 80s. Thom Schuyler penned this revealing tale of a struggling Music Row resident, and paints a vivid portrait of the kind of grit and determination it takes not only to succeed, but to survive, the ups and downs of the music business.  Like Dalton, Sweeney keeps it simple, and just tells the story.

Other highlights include, but are not limited to, ‘Please Be San Antone’, which was written by Emily Robison (of the Dixie Chicks and now the Court Yard Hounds) with radio personality and Americana mainstay Jim Lauderdale, who duets with Sweeney on ‘Lavender Blue’, a memory-driven tale of two former lovers who are wondering if the other is thinking about them tonight, and still wondering what went wrong.  Lauderdale’s brusque harmonies compliment the sharp, clear quality of Sweeney’s own vocals wonderfully, and give ‘Blue’ an unfair advantage over the album’s tracks sans Lauderdale.  These two are great candidates for a duets album.

This album is truly a throwback to the glory days of honky-tonk music in the 1960s and 70s, and Sunny sounds like she’d have fit right in, only a couple of generations removed from herself.  Almost unheard of today, the pedal steel guitar is featured prominently on nearly every track and no there’s no attempt at disguising the twang in Sunny’s voice.  Country radio might not have taken note, but it would serve all the ladies currently recording on Music Row to stop and listen to what Sunny Sweeney is doing.  She could lead the way if they’d let her.  I’d follow.

Grade: A-

Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame is widely available from amazon, and everywhere else music is still sold.

7 responses to “Album Review: Sunny Sweeney – ‘Heartbreaker’s Hall Of Fame’

  1. Leeann Ward September 22, 2010 at 7:34 am

    Good review. I really enjoy this album.

    Fun Fact: “If I Could” was written by Tim Carroll, Elizabeth Cook’s husband.

  2. Razor X September 22, 2010 at 8:38 am

    I also like this album a lot. “Next Big Nothin'” and “16th Avenue” are my favorites.

  3. Ben Foster September 22, 2010 at 9:08 am

    I think it’s great that Sunny seems (at least for now) to be picking up steam on country radio. I really love her sound, and I’ll definitely have to hear this whole album. It would be nice to have the country-pop and country-rock move over a bit and a make room for some straight-up country music.

  4. Occasional Hope September 22, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    I like this too.

  5. Pingback: Album Review: Sunny Sweeney – 'Heartbreaker's Hall Of Fame' « My … | Mark Guerrero Music

  6. Dee September 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    Love this cd — Hope Sunny makes it in Nashville. My local radio station here is playing “From a Table Away”.

  7. Rick September 23, 2010 at 6:00 pm

    This album was created and released initially as a low budget indie project so Sunny could have something to sell at her Texas gigs and get some airplay on Texas country radio stations. Scott Borchetta of the Big Machine label heard this CD and then signed Sunny to his label and this CD was re-issued on the Big Machine label. Nashville aspirations and Top 40 country radio were not exactly on Sunny’s mind when she created this album, but when opportunity came knocking she wasn’t about to turn it down.

    “Next Big Nothing” was written by Australian artist Audrey Auld Mezera who now resides in Nashville. Audrey used to be part of a duet with Bill Chambers and Sunny became acquainted with them when they performed in Austin during the late 1990’s/early 2000’s time frame. In fact Audrey told me Sunny used to join them on stage at these gigs and Sunny confirmed this to me directly. This was years before Sunny recorded this first album, but Bill and Audrey appreciated her exuberance! (lol) Audrey Auld Mezera has a keen and wicked sense of humor and “Next Big Nothing” is just Audrey being Audrey.

    I saw Elizabeth Cook and Tim Carroll in concert last Saturday night and I gave Tim a copy of Sunny’s new CD. I asked him what he thought about Sunny recording “If I Could” on the “Heart Breakers” album and performing it during her live shows? He replied that he was appreciative and that he had only met Sunny once or twice in quick, casual encounters at festivals they were both playing. I wonder if he realizes that Sunny became familiar with the song through Kasey Chambers’ cover version? Hmm…

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