Last Night: Sunny Sweeney at The Glass Cactus in Grapevine

Sunny Sweeney
The Glass Cactus in Grapevine
August 25, 2011

Better than: having to complain that Modern Country Radio ignores all talented Texans.

Texas native Sunny Sweeney is a star. Most of the country music-loving world knows that, too, thanks to her Top 10 hit single "From A Table Away." 

On Thursday night in Grapevine at the Glass Cactus, Sweeney provided plenty of reasons as to why she'll likely become an even brighter star in the extremely near future.

The attractive songstress with a mischievous black streak mixed in with her blonde locks is making the rounds celebrating the release of her superb new album, Concrete. Over the course of her 70-minute set, Sweeney also featured a few tunes from her debut album, Heartbreakers Hall of Fame, along with a couple of covers and even an unreleased song or two. 

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That's certainly a more well-balanced set-list than one hears at most of your typical album-release show. If there's a complaint to be seriously offered here, it's in the fact that much of the new album wasn't performed. But let's be honest: If that's the worst thing to happen at an otherwise enthralling show, then things were more than OK.

Fittingly, the Longview resident opened with her hard-charging version of Libbi Bosworth's "East Texas Pines" before breaking out new material in the form of the soon-to-be-a-revenge-anthem "Drink Myself Single." While Sweeney continued to mix in the old with the new, there's no question that the songs from Concrete were delivered with urgency that typically accompanies new additions to a band's live rotation.

Sweeney, who went through a divorce during the preparation of the new album, used that conflict to fuel much of the writing for the new collection, even if all of it isn't completely autobiographical. An amped up version of "Amy," perhaps the new album's strongest tune, deals with heartbreak, coveting thy neighbor's husband and general relational turmoil in a manner that rivals Sugarland's modern-classic "Stay." When Sweeney later performed "My Bed," an unreleased song that she claimed was written during her past troubles at home, the crowd was brought into the emotional black-hole that much of the new album was conceived in, even if this specific tune isn't on the latest record.

The night wasn't all morose and gut-wrenching, though. While heartfelt renditions of "Good Hearted Woman," (a tune Sweeney sang with Jesse Colter on a recent Waylon Jennings tribute album) and "Folsom Prison Blues" weren't exactly daring choices for covers, they were meaningful to the artist, and the evidence of that in Sweeney's purposeful delivery made up for the modicum of predictability in spades.

Sure, this was Sweeney's night, but her band took only the slightest of back seats to their sassy leader. The six-piece group was simply spot-on. While each member was clearly enjoying themselves, the spirited multi-instrumentalist Jake Doyle Clayton (who at one point literally had a banjo hanging around his neck while he strummed a mandolin next to where his fiddle had just been sat a moment prior) added more than his share of musical excitement to the proceedings. Also, Sweeney's band really understands the role of the modern country collective. They were rather successful in their mission to not merely replicate the revered sounds of the past. They fully resurrected the fiddle- and pedal-steel driven arrangements into vibrant, relevant life-forms. Nothing felt stale or merely sleep-walked through. 

Eventually, the opening notes of "From A Table Away" brought the approving attendees from their tables and onto the dance floor in front of the stage towards the end of the show. 

But it was her new single, "Staying's Worse Than Leaving" that might've summed up the singer's current overall life-scenario most fittingly. The song -- an ode to a decayed relationship and the confusion that comes from remaining with someone that's no longer someone you are able to continue with -- was co-written by Radney Foster and is a slowly rocking, mature and radio-ready tune. Too bad everyone going through divorce can't have an elite writing talent such as Foster to help them work through their issues. But, hey, when you can produce one of the best country albums of the year and have major label money justifiably backing you up, such things can be arranged.

As is the case with so many artists, and was certainly the case with Sweeney last night, the artist's pain seemed to make a whole lot of last night's concert-goers extremely happy.

Critic's Notebook
Personal Bias:
My Sunny Sweeney autographed beer koozie from 2007 remains a highlight in my "Signature Series Koozie Collection."

Random Note: Recently profiled taco carrier Penny Lazo was present. She received a shout-out from the stage from Sweeney.

By The Way: The Glass Cactus is a solid venue for a show. Too bad it's typically used as a cover band-infested cougar den.

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