There’s much talk about a backlash brewing against the male-centric Bro-Country mainstream country radio has been riding high on for the past few years. This musical uprising is said to be stewarded by women challenging the stereotypes paraded around in daisy dukes in derogatory narratives. Trouble is the men in these songs are simple, one-dimensional characters as well and the potential for expansion for anyone, topically or stylistically, are very narrow.
These women work the same mainstream fields that currently allow bro-country a thriving bounty. Small tweaks to adjust for new market fluctuations will be made. But the labels are in business to be in business, not to make some grand cultural statement.
Pretty tame stuff to fuel a backlash.
The products, or songs, might strike many as flimsy representation of human condition , but I argue it’s less about the songs and more about the process. Consider Sunny Sweeney; in and out of the the gravitational pull of Music Row, the big boys never knew what to do with her. Her first album bore the Lone Star mark of her native home of Texas and was re-released by Big Machine Records.
But charting and Music City are joined at the hip, and after being the first artist signed to a joint venture between Big Machine and Universal Republic Records – Republic Nashville – the more polished “Concrete,” was released but netted no significant radio play.
Sweeney and Big Machine split in 2012.
Now we have her provocatively titled new release, “Provoked.”
Combining DIY ethic with crowd-sourced funding, and support by indy Americana super label Thirty Tigers, “Provoked” contains Sweeney’s earlier fire tempered with an ear for a hook and just the right amount of studio provided by Luke Wooten (Dierks Bentley, Brad Paisley and sister neo-traditionalist Kellie Pickler)
From the cover Sunny looks right through use with her big, blue tinted eyes. What looks like tape with the title is masking her mouth giving the duel impression of being gagged and screaming the title at once.
Bro-country, like music of music city product, is thin tropes masquerading as the human experience, topical and stylistic, are very narrow. condition. Instead of working within those narrow confines Sweeney reaches back to a time when Nashville released songs dripping of love, tears, pain and blood – Tammy, Loretta, Kitty, George Jones , Willie and Waylon can all be heard between the spaces.
Sweeney says the album reflects her coming to terms with the mistakes she has made and the recovery that the last few years have brought her. “The album is a journey from nearly hitting bottom and losing everything personally to regaining my footing and being able to find not only my true self again, but real happiness.” “Provoked” might be a result of hard times and challenges of the spirit, but it has allowed Sweeney to regain her voice.
“You Don’t Know your Husband” kicks off with an acapella declaration of other-woman context rich in sass driven by cooking dobro and electric guitar that mirrors the dysfunctional menace the story rightly deserves.
The first single “Bad Girl Phase” is a Brandy Clark/Jessie Jo Dillion/Shannon Wright co-write and follows along with the badass gal theme covered by everyone from Miranda to Nikki Lane. Sweeney pulls off the song like a honky-tonk woman swagger over a greasy strut accompaniment.
“Second Guessing” and “Carolina on the Line” are tear-stained. moody studies on faded dreams and broken hearts and coming to terms in spite of it all.
When Lucinda Williams does a song it stays done but give Sweeney props for having a go at “Can’t Let Go.”
“Front Row Seats” mid-temo rocker offers the same kind of wry observations of the seamier side of polite society similar to Kacey Musgraves’ “Merry Go ‘Round”
“My Bed,” a co-write Sweeney with singer/songwriters and 2/3rds of the Pistol Annies, Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe – is a duet with singer/songwriter Will Hoge. It;s a intmate glimpse of a couple’s love souring on the vine. ” I’ll always love you/At least that’s what we said/Now you’re just sleeping in my bed.”
“Uninvited” is a dreamy study of social exclusion real or imagined sounds like a Radiohead brought up on The Possum.
on “Provoked” Sweeney proves that a more substantial response to Bro-Country, or really anything Music Row is shoveling out as the flavor of the moment, is to follow your heart and kick some ass. Sweeney sure does that and reminds us that life is more than just radio decoration.