Clad in a black hat onstage at Seattle’s Tractor Tavern on Thursday night, Sunny Sweeney remarked that she’d move to the Pacific Northwest in a heartbeat, just so she could wear a hat every day. But that wouldn’t feel quite right, much as we’d love to have her. It gets gloomy up here, and besides, the woman’s name is Sunny.
Sweeney was the opposite of gloomy in front of a half-full Tractor, in spite of her dark attire and professed affinity for raindrops. Short, blonde and blunt, with big, expressive eyes and porcelain skin, she’s a spitfire who makes no bones about the fact that the title song off her superb new album, Trophy, is a kiss-off to her husband’s catty ex-wife.
After kicking off with “Better Bad Idea,” Sweeney sang of her native state on “Nothin’ Wrong With Texas.” Had things broken better from a commercial standpoint, Sweeney could have been Miranda Lambert, playing to thousands at the Tacoma Dome last night. Instead, a crowd of some 150 folks hung on her every word. “Nothin’ Wrong With Texas” is an apt ode to her birthplace, for sure, but it’s also a song about accepting where you’ve landed, and that you may as well make the best of it.
Her emotional hand was more fully revealed on “Bottle By My Bed,” a Lori McKenna co-write about Sweeney’s struggles to conceive a child. It’s a tune that could have easily teetered into sap in the wrong hands, but it’s clever and heart-wrenching as rendered by this adroit songwriting duo.
Sweeney shifts rather effortlessly between sobering and sassy, as evidenced by “Whiskey Richard,” a song about her friend’s husband’s small penis. “I wish I had a bone to pick,” she sang, as the men in the audience switched to beer.
Earlier in her set, Sweeney delivered a rockin’ cover of Tom Petty’s “Apartment Song,” but it was her tender interpretation of Jerry Jeff Walker’s “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” during the second half of the show that really captured the crowd.
“I play jazz when I am confused/Country whenever I lose/Bird’s saxophone, it just don’t seem right/I feel like Hank Williams tonight.”
That’s a song about the moment a marriage dissolves, and the mood monsoon that ensues. Even at your lowest, music’s there. It helps you laugh, cry and say goodbye. Sunny Sweeney is capable of taking a listener to all of those places, and come out all the better for it.