by Julian Spivey
Country songstress Sunny Sweeney put on one helluva true country music show at Stickyz Rock ‘N’ Roll Chicken Shack in downtown Little Rock on Saturday, March 11.
The show was fantastic from start-to-finish, as the Texan singer-songwriter was fresh off of her fourth studio album release, Trophy, the day before.
The crowd got their money’s worth no doubt from Sweeney who peppered her almost 20 song set list with tracks from all four of her albums, including eight of her new album’s 10 tracks. In fact, the new album was the focal point of the first part of the show with five of the set’s first six tracks coming from Trophy. Sweeney began her show with the rip-roaring “Better Bad Idea” from the album, which is sure to be loved by fans of “Bad Girl Phase,” from her previous album Provoked. She would also perform “Pills,” written by friend Brennen Leigh, “Nothing Wrong with Texas,” an ode to her home state, and the title track from Trophy, inspired by her husband’s ex-wife.
The best performance early on from Trophy was “Pass the Pain,” which she had written with Jay Clementi and Monty Holmes years before but had never recorded on an album, partially because she was told it was “too country.”
I don’t believe there’s such a thing as “too country,” but it could explain why Sweeney – who had a top 10 hit with “From a Table Away” in 2010 (a song she didn’t perform on Saturday, but I wish she had) – has sort of been relegated to the independent, red dirt Texas country genre. Her lovely Texan twang mixed with both beautifully written and tough songs just make her too country for the pop, rock, hip-hop infused “country” being played on popular country radio. She should be as big as Miranda Lambert, but it seems country radio only makes room for few of those types of artists.
The one song she played early on during the show that wasn’t off her latest release was a cover of Tom Petty’s “The Apartment Song” from his 1989 album Full Moon Fever. Sweeney said she performed the song with Reckless Kelly for a Petty tribute album and had cribbed it for her own set. Her cover was perfection.
It seemed one of Sweeney’s favorite performances of the night – and one of the crowd’s too – was the risqué “Whiskey Richard,” which she said was too bawdy to ever record, about a man who can’t make love when he’s under the influence.
One of Sweeney’s finest performances of the night was “Mama’s Opry,” off her debut album Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame from 2006. The cover of Iris DeMent’s song is another that likely would be considered “too country” by many. Sweeney told the crowd that she recently played the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville for the 48th time, an honor she couldn’t believe. She would also play “East Texas Pines” from her debut.
I particularly enjoyed Sweeney’s performances from her second album Concrete in “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving,” which she wrote with Radney Foster, and “Drink Myself Single,” both songs charted for her in 2011.
Sweeney would include more songs from Trophy in her set including the tragic “Bottle by My Bed,” written with recent Grammy-winning songwriter Lori McKenna, about wanting a child, but not yet having one. “Bottle by My Bed” is one of four co-writes with McKenna on Trophy.
My favorite performance off Trophy is Sweeney’s cover of Chris Wall’s “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight,” which I previously had heard in concert by Jerry Jeff Walker, a Texas country legend. The song is quintessentially country about nothing in this world is a better listen when you’re down than old school Hank. It’s truly an early front-runner for my favorite country song of the year.
Another highlight from the show was Sweeney’s performance of the comical “Backhanded Compliment,” from 2014’s Provoked, which was co-written with Natalie Hemby and Sweeney said that each line in the song was something previously uttered either to her or Hemby.
Sweeney would finish her near 90-minute set with “Bad Girl Phase,” one that seems to have kind of become her theme song. It was the perfect concert finisher.
I can’t stress enough how great Sweeney is – and you should definitely pick up a copy of Trophy – everything about her performance, even down to her style of chewing gum throughout her show and holding on to a beer bottle mid-song was perfectly country. As it turns out, she is as nice as she is talented hanging around the stage after the show to chat, take photos with and sign autographs for her fans.