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Andrew Duhon’s Words of Wisdom on Emerald Blue

Andrew Duhon has traveled the world as a folk singer and he’s learned a lot in doing so. He’s learned to trust less in money, that he’s more of a human being/citizen of the world than a person tied to a particular country, and the importance of learning to slow down and enjoy the moment. These aren’t things he’s been taught per se, just some things he’s picked up from experience. Drawing wisdom from experience has always been who Andrew is.

As a child in Catholic school, Duhon learned about the beauty and validity of religious plurality by coloring in a picture of Jesus. No, really. Each child created an image of Christ with different colors and patterns. They all went up on the wall and they were all considered valid. “None of them would be right or wrong, we would just learn from what we interpreted,” Duhon said. “Perhaps that is the most important lesson Catholic school ever taught me. Unintended, likely. Certainly unintended.”

He has since rejected the dogma of religion and decided to focus on what makes people similar. Our differences are important, sure, but it’s more important to focus on unity, Duhon argues. Stories like this give me tremendous hope for the future. No matter what nationalism and intolerance is hurled at children, some of them are going to notice a small detail and learn the right thing anyway. It’s especially beautiful if they’re unlocking truths most adults can’t grasp just by looking at the pages of a coloring book.

Andrew Duhon’s album is called Emerald Blue. The rest of the album features standouts like “Slow Down,” which Duhon quite literally slows down for the final chorus. In taking his own advice, he creates a memorable track and a minute’s worth of a sweet slow jam. “Emerald Blue” and “Down From the Mountain” follow in the great tradition of American roots music in that they use the beauty of the natural world to portray an emotion.

“Down From the Mountain” especially works as reentry to the world following the pandemic lockdown. Duhon, a resident of New Orleans, told me he’s looking to get a cabin in the mountains of the Northeast or Pacific Northwest to escape to during the summer and just sit back and fish. It seems that even for a musician who travels the world, there’s a desire to climb back up the mountain from time to time and ‘slow down.’

Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Andrew Duhon and the songs we discussed, starting with the first half of our interview. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit http://www.WUSB.fm and http://www.andrewduhon.com for more.

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Sunny Sweeney Hands Country Music Fans a Real Prize with Trophy

Just about every song has multiple layers and meaning on Trophy, the latest from Sunny Sweeney, which turns name calling, regrets, and even gossip into country gems.

Trophy is the fourth record and second independent release for Sweeney, who became a Texas country favorite with 2014’s Provoked. The album’s title comes from a track that turns an attempted insult into an opportunity to brag. Sweeney delivers the lyrics with a taunting swagger: “Yeah, he’s got a trophy now/For putting up with you.”

“I heard that one of my husband’s exes was calling me names and I thought it would be funny to write a song about it instead of getting mad,” Sweeney said in a phone conversation for the March 20th episode of Country Pocket.

Sweeney teamed up with the influential Lori McKenna on that track and three others, including the uncharacteristically sentimental “Grow Old With Me,” which covers Sweeney’s relationship with her second husband.

“I don’t ever have love songs, but I really liked that one for some reason.”

Sweeney is one of the few songwriters who regularly acknowledges in her music that her husband is not her first.

“I think people don’t want to talk about their first relationships failing. They kind of pretend that it didn’t happen, but it did, and you wouldn’t be where you are if it didn’t.”

Sweeney captures the same energy as she did on her Texas radio number one hit “Bad Girl Phase” with “Better Bad Idea,” a rare song made better by a lack of detail. Wine and weed are specifically mentioned, but for the most part, the singer is only playing up her potential to be wild and challenging her companion to come up with the details. It’s as much a statement of rebellion as it is an over the top act of seduction.

“Unsaid” also leaves a few words out for emotional impact, this time while conveying the pain of being on bad terms with someone who unexpectedly passes away. The first three lines mention church bells and headlights in describing a funeral procession. We hear about a name written in stone early on, but the word “heaven” doesn’t appear until after the second refrain. It’s a strong indicator that the singer is struggling to accept the death, just as the decision to end the song by leaving out the third note of a repeated three-note guitar part had the effect of conveying the suddenness of the tragedy. It’s also Sweeney’s strongest vocal to date.

“Pass the Pain” and the Brennen Leigh and Noel McKay penned “Pills” play around with the idea of judgment and self-awareness in satisfying ways. “Nothing Wrong With Texas,” which came from Sweeney’s move to New York City, is most notable for its fiddle work and the impressive rhyme scheme of perspective/respect is/Texas. The Jerry Jeff Walker cover “I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight” uses the title as a great double entendre.

“I’ve always wanted to record that song. I think it’s one of the greatest country songs ever written.” Sweeney said of the cover song.

“Bottle By My Bed” takes on even more meanings. The risky track is on its face about wanting a child, but also about reaching a new stage of maturity. Underneath is a feeling that perhaps a deeper, more heartbreaking problem exists for the singer. She says she only calls her husband baby “because I like the word” and describes watching the news at night alone with some beers while he suggests waiting to have a child. Her friends are all busy raising kids, so it’s easy to get the sense the singer feels little in the way of support and companionship.

It’s hard to imagine this review isn’t missing at least one layer of meaning on even the songs described in depth. As enjoyable as these songs are to listen to, Trophy is an album best thought about deeply and played repeatedly. Sweeney’s songwriting will undoubtedly hold up to that level of examination.