Sunny Sweeney Heartbreaker's Hall of Fame

It’s little surprise that this independent artist just signed with Nashville’s Big Machine Records — she’s one big talent. (Think the sensual allure and vocal power of Kasey Chambers crossed with the authentic twang of Iris Dement.) She’s a country girl but also a balls-to-the-walls honky tonker who sings with the confidence of a seasoned veteran. It doesn’t hurt her career-to-be that she’s also a drop-dead blonde bombshell, adding even more tonk to her honk. The brassy East Texan eases into her high-powered assault with Jim Lauderdale’s "Refresh My Memory” (she also performs a duet with him on the bittersweet "Lavender Blue”), while her propulsive cover of Libbi Bosworth’s "East Texas Pines” suggests a rocker’s heart. It’s hard to believe Sweeney’s reluctance in choosing country singing over a comedy career but that insight underscores her cover of Aussie Audrey Auld’s "Next Big Nothing,” making it entirely her own. Blending sturdy originals with favourites, Sweeney’s Loretta- and Merle-weaned upbringing shines forth with her self-penned title track and smart entries like D.B. Harris’s "Here Lately.” Her natural twang lights up covers such as Iris Dement’s "Moma’s Opry” and Lauderdale’s ”Please Be San Antone” like nobody’s business. The only imaginable criticism is her band’s performance, which errs on the side of cookie-cutter, taking few chances. This leaves the focus clearly on Sunny, which may be intentional. Exemplary support breaks through from fiddler Bobby Flores, dobro player Tommy Delamore and Ted Roddy on harp. This is a heartbreaking and powerful debut. Needless to say, Sunny’s future looks bright. (Big Machine)