After three years of being ignored by country radio, and three non-charting single releases, Texan neotrad artist Sunny Sweeney re-emerged last year with a sound that was more polished and commercially friendly, while still showing a strong connection to her traditional country roots. As a result, she gradually fell into the good graces of country radio, and netted the first Top 10 hit of her career with "From a Table Away."
On her follow-up release, Sunny is backed by a drum-heavy arrangement of electric and steel guitar with peels of fiddle. Like her previous-single, it has enough polish to make it palatable to country radio, but it is still unmistakably country, such that tacking on the "pop-country" label would still seem like an enormous stretch.
"Staying's Worse Than Leaving" finds a character on the tail end of an ill-fated relationship. She is clearly resigned to the fact that things are not going to be easy for her. "Leavin's hard," Sunny sings. "It'll shake ya, damn near break ya." She views leaving as an ultimate last resort, but as the state of the relationship deteriorates, she eventually concludes that "Staying's Worse Than Leaving," so she packs up her bags.
The lyrics portray a conflagration of emotions. The woman is desperate, but at the same time bold and determined, not caring "who passes judgment on [her] reasons." She strains to be hopeful, but struggles with uncertainty ("It's gotta get better - It can't get worse/ Hope it's a blessing and not a curse"). Both the lyrics and Sunny's performance cause the listener to feel the ache along with the song's narrator.
Perhaps the most appealing characteristic of Sunny's new single is the way it so candidly addresses the theme of heartache. The mainstream brand of music that we call country sometimes prefers to forget the fact that it was once the go-to genre for all brokenhearted individuals in need of a song they could relate to. In modern times, country radio often favors uplifting and inoffensive material over the heartbreak songs that had previously been country music's specialty. "Staying's Worse Than Leaving" makes no attempt to lighten it's emotional weight. It knows that it's a sad song, and owns it.
"Staying's Worse Than Leaving" is an excellent follow-up to one of the best country singles of 2010. Radio may or may not continue to allow Sunny a regular slot on playlists, but her consistently excellent material guarantees that if her success continues, mainstream country music could get a whole lot more interesting.
SUNNY'S SCORE: 9
(Scores are given on a scale of 1 to 10)
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