These are demoralizing times for most Americans, and it's at such historical junctures that music is most potent and therapeutic. Ruthie Foster couldn't have known it as she was recording her deeply satisfying new album, Joy Comes Back, but the tune "Working Woman" is exactly the sort of blunt instrument necessary to trump hate on the heels of women's marches nationwide that dwarfed The Donald's inaugural crowd.
Listening to a performer as soulful and sincere as Foster is tonic for the alternative facts being advanced by our Commadman in Chief. Her bluesy take on Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" takes on surprising weight when delivered by an African-American Navy vet from Texas. She can be sweet too, like on "Good Sailor," "Loving You Is Sweeter Than Ever" and "Forgiven," and "What Are You Listening To"--penned by Chris Stapleton--will make you sway and harken back to classic '60s R&B, a fitting parallel given the current cultural climate.
The stylistically nimble Foster boasts considerable gravitas, the sort which is entirely lacking at 1900 Pennsylvania Avenue. She may not have set out to make a political record, but in the face of a dire national crisis, everything is politicized. And the mere fact that she's recording such beautiful, poignant music as everything around her turns to shit provides a beacon of hope in the coal-black darkness of midnight in America.
But while many Americans will be inspired to rage against the machine for the next several years, others will take a stab at sanity by focusing on the situation between their own four walls. This is where Sunny Sweeney and her brilliant new album Trophy--sure to appear on best-of lists at year's end, even though 2017's still in its infancy--come in. Childless and 40, she yearns for a baby on "Bottle By My Bed," a song that will have heart-wrenching relevance for any woman--or couple, for that matter--who's ever struggled to conceive a child. Later, with fellow Texan Jack Ingram providing backing vocals, she walks through the entire span of a relationship on "Grow Old With Me." A lot of marriages fail, something Sweeney's experienced firsthand, but the notion that lasting romance is out there is enough to keep a lot of people from hitting the Snooze button each morning. "Grow old with me, I'll keep you young forever" goes the chorus. It's a little cheesy, sure, but such is true love--and Sweeney's rich voice and gift for melody could make the Barney theme song sound fresh and inviting.
The most impressive thing about Trophy is how much more comfortable Sweeney's gotten in her own skin. When she was a bit younger and signed to a big Nashville label, it seemed as though she was being groomed to be a Miranda Lambert type--part sensual balladeer, part party-girl trainwreck. The spiked heels never quite seemed to fit, though. As she's become less image-conscious recording for the likes of Thirty Tigers, she's just focused on making great music, and boasts more than enough talent to succeed on her own terms.