Sunny Sweeney’s newest album, Married Alone, hurls the listener through a [positive] emotional rollercoaster and showcases her breadth as an artist that is not afraid to genre-bend and is executed in a way that only positively highlights her talent.
Sweeney’s opening song, “Tie Me Up,” is a compelling choice for a first track, albeit one that works to play off the mellow, melancholic tendencies multiple songs on the album exude. The line “you can tie me up, but baby you can’t tie me down” chimes what seems like a dozen times throughout the entire song, emphasizing and solidifying her independent, bold nature. Little Big Town’s “Pontoon,” Carrie Underwood’s “Before He Cheats,” and subliminal cowpunk undertones ring through the lyrical decisions, beat, and tempo. Witnessing Sweeney sing this song in an intimate, live music venue would certainly manifest itself into a grand old time.
“Easy as Hello,” track number two, retains the upbeat mood of “Tie Me Up,” yet is more yearnful and lamenting. Mournful, high-pace western guitar opens the song and preps for the first verse. Lyrically, the song emphasizes Sweeney’s borderline-denial, curious retrospection of an old lover, and the line “if goodbye were as easy as hello” catalogs her regret as it weaves in and out of the song multiple times. The looming, borderline anxious-depressive hybrid of Sweeney is felt through both her vocals and the dim, open strums of the guitar.
Sweeney’s most iconic tracks in Married Alone are those with genre-bending honky-tonk rock-and-roll with splashes of country western roots. Although “Married Alone (feat. Vince Gill)” and “A Song Can’t Fix Everything (feat. Paul Cauthen)” reign as most streamed, and understandably so, her strengths shine through in less popular tracks where upbeat tempos contradict her words. “Someday You’ll Call My Name” could easily turn into a depressing, slow ballad while retaining the same lyrics. An extra layer of intrigue and empowerment is added when she overhauls conventional, cliché country-heartache tunes in quest of something more dimensional. She amplifies what has been done over and over again with tongue-in-cheek, holier-than-thou statements, like “You missed your chance and it’s a cry in shame / Someday you’ll call my name.”
Her rebuttal of the “poor me” mentality that some country artists feed into propels her out of the unspoken box a clump of musicians in her genre fall into: one that grips too tightly onto the notion that you need negative, self-indulgent, borderline sad, egoic narcissism to make a successful, nostalgic heartbreak song. Even tracks like “How’d I End up Lonely Again,” with its sad Texas fiddle, pick up the pace in the interlude for more intrigue and depth. The writing itself hurdles her from basic to elevated with the focus not on her sadness and loneliness but what external relief she relies on to keep trucking along: “No good mornings, no goodbyes / It’s just me and the blues.” This enforces her dimensional character and paints a full picture of a whole person and not someone who is unfulfilled merely due to the lack of a man.
Sweeney’s Married alone leaves the listener feeling empowered. Songs like “Want You to Miss Me” are especially relatable to the general listener who has past tumultuous love experiences. Her raw vulnerability plays a large role in her storytelling prowess. She emphasizes concepts that a slightly lovesick person may feel when she sings lyrics like “I want you to think about me / The way I think about you” in “Want You to Miss Me,” relating to the average joe. Yet, the tone in which she sings in most of her songs, coupled with her unique sprinkle of confidence and knowing her worth, boosts her above much of her competition. The chronology of the album makes sense and tells a story much like her actual words do. She may sing of heartbreak, but her self-esteem holds high, promising listeners that there is hope and whimsy in love withdrawals and adversity in general.
Reviewed by Catherine Spohn