“Provoked,” not provoking

Sunny Sweeney's latest album makes for pleasant but unspectacular country listening.

Country artist Sunny Sweeney released her third studio album, Provoked, on Aug. 5. It blends rollicking the Gretchen Wilson-types (“You Don’t Know Your Husband”) and yearning ballads (“Find Me”).

The question, in Sweeney’s case, is what makes her stand out from the crowd of blonde female country superstars. In recent years, Miranda Lambert (impeccable song choice) and Carrie Underwood (unbelievable range) have risen to the top, with Faith Hill and Dolly Parton maintaining their long-held reputations without making new mainstream waves. Taylor Swift made her mark with songs about real boys and by crossing over into pop. Sugarland’s Jennifer Nettles boasts twangy, powerhouse vocals. Kellie Pickler’s appeal has been helped and hindered by her dumb-but-pretty reputation, shown most obviously in this hilarious game show appearance.

Sweeney’s best asset is probably the honest character of her lyrics: “I’ve waited 32 summers and 33 frosts / Find me.”

“My Bed,” a touching duet with Will Hoge, is sweet and reminiscent of “Your Side Of The Bed” by Little Big Town. “My Bed” lacks LBT’s catchy four-part harmony, but a song about a married couple seems be more appropriate sung by two people instead of four, anyway.

The bounciest, most clever song on the album is “Backhanded Compliment,” rattling off a series of comments people make without thinking (“I hope I look like you when I’m your age”) written with the obvious influence of talented songstress Natalie Hemby (“Pontoon,” “Automatic”).

This album is a solid addition to Sweeney’s oeuvre, but artists need some extraordinary trait to make them stand out and demand listeners. “Staying’s Worse Than Leaving,” a heartbreaking single from Sweeney’s previous studio album Concrete, had that it-factor in its lyrics: “You don’t go until you’re praying to break even / Until staying’s worse than leaving.” She approaches that appeal with several of her songs on Provoked, but doesn’t quite make it with the entire album. You probably won’t switch the station when these songs come on the radio, but you might not switch stations to get to them, either.