It’s safe to say that August 23 is the greatest day in all of 2011 for the women of traditional(ish) country music, with a sophomore album from Sunny Sweeney, a long-awaited return by Connie Smith, and a much-anticipated debut from Miranda Lambert’s throwback girl trio, Pistol Annies.
While all three albums will be in serious contention for many Best of 2011 lists, the odds-on favorite is the Pistol Annies’ Hell on Heels, which benefits from Lambert’s big-name exposure but succeeds on the basis of killer vocal interplay and smart, frank songwriting from a consistent and relatable perspective. For those already acquainted with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe, the big surprise will be Angaleena Presley, whose lighter twang capably carries much of the album.
Sweeney might as well be an honorary Annie, though without the luxury of a Lambert-style side project her sophomore album is forced to split the difference between the throwback country heard on Hell on Heels — or Sweeney’s own indie album Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame — and the commercial sound more likely to burn up the charts (cf. “Baggage Claim” off of Lambert’s rocked-up Four the Record, out November 1). While Sweeney’s hard twang keeps everything grounded firmly in traditional country, the odd misstep like “Helluva Heart” leaves a bit of a compromised aftertaste. In a crowded release day, Concrete also loses a bit of its luster for the fact that half of it has already been heard as a Sunny Sweeney EP released earlier in the year. No fault of Sweeney’s, certainly, but all part of the game she’s trying to play. If it works, she’ll join Lambert and Swift as one of the sharpest female singer-songwriters on country radio. Here’s hoping.
Connie Smith is long past the games. On her first album in 13 years, she sings straight-up classic country music like a woman still in the thick of her 1960s heyday, her voice barely diminished in the intervening 40+ years. Any of today’s stars would be lucky to age as gracefully.
Besides all the new releases, there’s also the fact that Elizabeth Cook actually got to sit down on David Letterman’s couch and talk to him on last night’s show, a rare honor for a visiting musician who isn’t Paul McCartney or Bono. If you didn’t catch the always-charming Ms. Cook on The Late Show, skip ahead to about the 28-minute mark of the full episode posted on the CBS site.