Thirty Tigers

If the current pack of mainstream bro-country hit churners go the way of the dinosaur in the next few years (we can hope), there’s a tenacious emerging species of charmingly brash, unmistakably countrified women long overdue for their turn in the sun. Sunny Sweeney was already on a bit of a roll, breaking into the Top 40 mainstream just a few years ago, but ironically she sounds a bit younger now: the sort of tough-gal swagger that made fellow Texan Miranda Lambert famous figures more heavily into Sweeney’s sound that it used to, and it’s a great fit. Having collaborators like Brandy Clark and Pistol Annies members Angaleena Presley and Ashley Monroe on board makes the aptly-titled Provoked a snapshot of a scene where brutal honesty, raw vulnerability, and unabashed sauciness are heartily encouraged. Some of the best songs here roll out like mini-movies from a distinctly female perspective: the chilly awkwardness of showing up “Uninvited,” the catty back-and-forths of “Backhanded Compliment,” the stinging self-reproach of a heartbroken woman hitting the bottle early in her “Sunday Dress.” At worst, the record stumbles a bit trying to shoehorn personal tales into lyrical form (“Second Guessing,” “Used Cars”), but Sweeney’s sweet East Texas twang and Luke Wooten’s pleasantly scuffed-up production never make it less than listenable. At best, you get the achingly pretty “My Bed” (a Will Hoge duet with some hair-raising harmonies) and “Find Me,” plus the biting, almost Warren Zevon-esque “Front Row Seats.” Provoked is easily Sweeney’s best work yet, both self-deprecating and likeably assertive with the vibe of someone who’ll want to hold your hand until she has to kick your ass. — MIKE ETHAN MESSICK

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