We’ve reviewed a fuck-tonne of country this year – and this is our favourite so far…
Jonathan Bogart: The aftermath of Nancy Wilson’s “Guess Who I Saw Today,” from the perspective of the Other Woman, and transmuted from a New York café in the early morning of 1960 to a Paris, Texas diner as the sun sets on America. The gameplay is rote, but she puts enough english on it that you wonder if she’s got stuff with less radio-ready shapeliness to it waiting to be sprung.
Kat Stevens: This is a Cosmopolitan problem page letter in song format! Sunny is the Other Woman who sees her chap — and his WIFE, OMG — at a restaurant, and realises that he’s never going to ditch said wife like he promised. At first you’re not sure whether you should feel sorry for Sunny, as she clearly knew that the dude was married (as he told her what a harridan his wife was) and shagged him anyway. Cosmo would give her a sound telling off. But Sunny was obviously under the impression that she was saving this dude from a life of misery, and giving him the motivation to leave an unhappy relationship! And once she sees she’s been lied to, she makes up her mind not to bother with this dick anymore (he will stay ‘a table away’). Ultimately she seems to have learned her lesson, i.e. men willing to cheat on their wives are probably lying dicks. So Cosmo gives her a 4-page spread: “MY CHILLING MICHELIN MISERY”
Martin Skidmore: A slowish country number that occasionally thuds clumsily, but most of the time the steel guitar carries it along quite sweetly, and Sunny delivers the ‘saw you with another woman’ lyric well, with restrained emotion. Possibly too much restraint, really — I kind of wanted something angrier, more like the great “Before He Cheats” maybe. Still, I do like this.
Rebecca Toennessen: Instead of being about the woman your man done you wrong by, Sunny laments being the other woman summoned at a whim when things go wrong. Her voice is a sweet as you’d expect from a woman called Sunny, but in that stingingly sweet country way that, without even reading the lyrics, lets you know this is about heartbreak. I also like how the blame is placed squarely where it should be -– on the cheatin’ bastard. While gazing on her lover with his wife, noticing her ring and their lovin’ on each other, she muses “I thought she was pretty/She’s nothing like the things you said/The woman you described/Couldn’t even turn your head“. This is slow, sad, honkytonk to grab a tissue and sniffle along too.
John Seroff: “From a Table Away” is lyrically daring: a carefully-worded, pre-emptive breakup from the other woman’s POV that skirts bitterness or reproach. More’s the pity it’s so drab and plodding. Sunny’s singing is workmanlike but not moving and the underdeveloped melody is stuck in second gear. A better hook might’ve elevated “Table”; as is, it’s mostly indistinguishable honky-tonk fare with a cleverer turn-of-phrase than the norm.
Chuck Eddy: Most adult jealousy song of the year, with a melody and vocal as clear as the words, and enough specifics to make it feel like real life — e.g. the other woman realizes the wife of the guy she’s been seeing on the sly is less hideous than he’s claimed, and that they’ve still got chemistry, and he’s not going to leave her after all. I’m almost even willing to buy that she could have stayed invisible in those dim lights. Sunny’s not mired here by the retro purism that held back even the handful of good cuts on 2006’s Heartbreaker’s Hall Of Fame album. And she doesn’t sound all that angry or even torn-up; just resigned to a really unfortunate situation. There’s something grown-up about that, too.
Edward Okulicz: The vivid specifics of the story might detract from its relatability, but that’s no bad thing. Sweeney’s performance is so nuanced you can either airbrush the narrative out and love the steel guitar and the gorgeous melody, or you can take it all in and admire the subtlety — rather than being vengeful or lost, she gives us six glorious shades of unglorious resignation. A skilful bit of storytelling, and a nice flip of a songwriting cliche to boot.
Frank Kogan: Woman in the shadows is hit with the realization that that’s where she’s doomed to stay, though she communicates all this in understated description: what she actually sees in contrast to what the man had claimed. The violin and pedal steel cry on her behalf, but discreetly.
Anthony Easton: Scorching heart breaker from the closest we have gotten to Yearwood in a decade. I am also liking how the morality of the adulteress is never questioned — he is an asshole because he has lied, she is a victim for believing him, neither of them are condemned for having sex outside of marriage. That might mean something.
Alfred Soto: Lots of little touches — like the fiddle that elaborates the pathos of the line “The woman you describe couldn’t even turn your head” — and vocal curlicues transform this into more than a respectable performance. As long as Sweeney bends her voice to the accompaniment of a pedal steel, she makes me forget she’s just an okay singer. Lee Ann Womack knows a weeper when she hears one.
Mallory O’Donnell: The tune is just on the nice side of fine, but the lyric (presumably written by Sweeney) is appropriately clever and possessed of a narrator both morally ambiguous and enviably strong. It’d be interesting to hear her sing a tune with some sass, but this is a well-matured offering, somber, sweet and decorous — traits even rarer in a first charting single from a relative unknown.
Jonathan Bradley: Last time I checked in on Sunny Sweeney, she was singing a hayseed hoedown called “If I Could“: a brisk number that seemed too tossed-off for contemporary country, and all the better for it. That was a few years ago, and Sweeney has since put the fishing pole aside; “From a Table Away” is a class act. It has the same stiff-lipped sorrow so well-communicated by Canadian songstress Kathleen Edwards, and its power is enhanced, not hindered, by the careful emotional remove. The distance in Sweeney’s words is the distance of the neighboring diner in the narrative’s restaurant. This is a song about watching rather than feeling. By no means does that make it empty.