Provoked, the title of Sunny Sweeney's third album, is an apt one. After nearly a decade of highs and lows professionally and personally, the East Texas singer and songwriter returns with ferocity. The album, crowd-funded through a Kickstarter campaign, was released by the independent Thirty Tigers. It's a provocative album, detailing a difficult journey through disappointment, doubt, darkness, and ultimately triumph. It's chock-full of vulnerability, accountability, an acidic wit and strength. Sweeney co-wrote 11 of the 13 songs on the Luke Wooten-produced set. Both the opener, "You Don't Know Your Husband," and its lead single, the rocking, radio-friendly "Bad Girl Phase," swagger and strut with clattering rhythms and guitars and banjos blazing -- the former with a tough dobro break by Jake Clayton. The attitude in those tracks recalls the anthemic, no-apologies militancy of Gretchen Wilson at her best. Nearly full use is made of studio tropes that befit contemporary country's current soundscape, save for Auto-Tune. The sassy choogler "Can't Let Go" underscores Sweeney's ability to honestly observe and report on things exactly as they are. This also true in the midtempo songs and ballads. The longing in the shimmering country waltz "Find Me" is a highlight, as is "My Bed," a duet with Will Hoge that details both viewpoints at the end of a marriage. "Uninvited" marries gospel and pop as Sweeney's East Texas vocal comes through the center. The sassy closer "Everybody Else Can Kiss My Ass" is hard, classic honky tonk, with pedal steel and fiddle raging. The musical range and candid nature of these well-crafted songs serve to make Provoked the most consistent -- and diverse -- of Sweeney's offerings. Honest, poignant, and often funny, this is contemporary country with real heart. It should not only appeal to fans, but to a wider audience to boot.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek