Suzy Bogguss issued her fine Swing album in 2003. Other than a Christmas recording -- why does every artist feel the need to issue one of those? -- she hasn't released anything in four years. She's toured hard, written songs, and spent her time and energy conceiving the provocative Sweet Danger. Bogguss may no longer be on the country charts, but perhaps with contemporary country's willingness to embrace other American popular song forms she may end up there yet again. For the listener, it doesn't matter. The reason is simply that Sweet Danger is the finest moment in a long career. Bogguss has undergone a metamorphosis as a musician. It's plainly obvious from the opening moments of the album's opening cut, "The Bus Ride." The big minor-key piano chords, hand percussion, and muted drum kit give way to a tasty acoustic guitar lead and it's all reminiscent of Steely Dan's "Do It Again." The similarity ends there in a sense, because when Bogguss opens her mouth and lets the story begin to fall from her, it's all her. But the music here owes more to jazz and samba than country -- no matter how hip and inclusive its industry says it is, stuff like this would terrify the production formula-obsessed producers in mainstream Nash Vegas. Her style is inimitable, no matter what she's singing. Unlike most vocalists these days, Bogguss is a singer and a stylist. She takes a lyric and makes it a scenario, a gauzy filmic episode. The shimmering finger-popping groove in "Everything" owes as much to Sergio Mendes as it does to Diane Warren; a button accordion accompanies a piano, acoustic guitars, and restrained but ever-present percussion, floating her tale of romantic ambivalence. Her lines alternate speaker to speaker; tag lines come from the ether. There are some curious selections here, such as a cover of Peter Cetera's monster smash "If You Leave Me Now." While Bogguss does bring something different to the tune, it's not enough to keep you from hearing the original in your head.
The self-penned "Baby July" is a candidate for country radio -- again if they have the guts. It's no less commercial than anything by Martina McBride, but it's far subtler as piano, acoustic guitar, sparse percussion, and a brief but tasty lead guitar solo color her voice just the right shade of bright. The production by Jason Miles and Bogguss is wonderful. Most of the album was recorded in New York and finished in Franklin, TN, and there isn't a studio in Nashville that could have handled a record like this with the possible exception of Owen Bradley's back in the day. The album is full of warmth, light, and air. There isn't anything hurried, or compressed in the sound to make it "bigger." There are many quiet surprises, too, such as the upright bass intro to "Chain Lover," a smoky, bluesy opening to a beautiful pop song with gorgeous lyrics by Bogguss and Billy Kirsch. The slippery backbeat (ushered in by the bassline) in the title track offers a breezy love song that has everything in it, expressing what being "overwhelmed" by new love means. There are wily little beats in the middle of the mix and Bogguss' relaxed delivery is sexy -- it's confessional but happy. The dizziness the listener experiences comes from her artful phrasing. Other winners here include a beautifully soulful reading of Beth Nielsen Chapman's "Right Back into the Feeling," the closest thing to a rocker on this disc. It's adult, infectious, and soulful. The other is the closer, a B-3-tinged love song Bogguss wrote with Carson Whitsett and Jon Vezner. Here is the sound that contemporary country music would aspire to if it were sophisticated enough. It's a simple song with a glorious arrangement and lush texture, where the song dictates what the singer offers the listener, not the other way around. Sweet Danger is yet another example of what a true treasure Suzy Bogguss is as a singer, writer, and performer. She is simply timeless in her grace and elegance.