Brennen Leigh & Sunny Sweeney Like Country
Tonight’s Saxon Pub song exchange unites liberals/conservatives
By Raoul Hernandez,
12:30PM, Tue. Sep. 15, 2015
Residencies built Austin country music. The W’s alone stagger, from late legends Don Walser at Jovita’s and Rusty Wier at the Saxon Pub, to Dale Watson’s continuing stand on Mondays at the Continental Club. Brennen Leigh and Sunny Sweeney’s monthly roast at that middle venue delivers the casual brilliance that turned this slacker town into a metropolis.
Begun over the summer at South Lamar’s knights of the round table tavern, the local twangers’ song exchange – triangulated by UK guitarist Sophia Johnson sitting neatly between the two – delivers the same easy laughs/banter/repartee that famous A&M alums Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen reunite occasionally to demonstrate. And this at a cozy bar rather than the Paramount Theatre. Leigh and Sweeney’s decade-long friendship has resulted in 20 or 30 co-writes estimates the former.
Foremost among them at present, “But You Like Country Music,” a perfect guy/gal, woman/woman, bro/bro-styled duet – whichever you prefer – volleys the genre’s two distinct yin/yang constituencies.
“Sunny and I have been friends for a long time, since before either of us knew each other’s politics,” admits Leigh. “Our first meeting was a bonding moment over a slice of pizza [at the Carousel Lounge]. And country music ... that’s what brought us together and it remains the common theme today.”
“Well, Brennan had the idea, and I believe it stemmed from the fact that we’re such close friends and have so very much in common, yet have very different opinions politically. We never knew it until years into our friendship, but we both know that country music can bring people together.”
Meanwhile, their respective originals field roundhouse knockout combos live. Sweeney’s knowing “You Don’t Know Your Husband” versus Leigh’s “Sexist from Texas,” a ripe lampoon in Western Swing. At least one cowpoke at the bar isn’t laughing at either, but then the whole saloon erupts in merriment after the applause die down following the latter tune and an audience member cracks in the pause, “Pretty good for a girl.”
Sweeney’s “Bottle by the Bed,” another stone country stunner, swigs 100-proof even if it’s mother’s milk. The emotional roil of a singer’s road going on forever at the expense of motherhood sobers up fast. Leigh’s “North Dakota” soothes like Cole Porter, timelessly lyrical both literally and vocally.
Together, those voices – Brennen Leigh and Sunny Sweeney – resound.
1) Best country duet of all time?
BL: Anything by the Louvin Brothers.
SS: “Golden Ring” by George Jones & Tammy Wynette.
2) Most overlooked country duet of all time?
BL: It might be “Let’s Invite Them Over,” George Jones & Melba Montgomery. Their albums from the Sixties are incomparable.
SS: “Storms Never Last,” Jessi Colter & Waylon Jennings.
3) Who’s y’all’s female version of the Highwaymen? Past, present, future – whatever. Your dream team.
BL: I have a lot of wonderful women I want to play music with here in Austin. Too many to name, so I’ll have to go with people I never got to meet: Bessie Smith to sing, Maybelle Carter to play guitar, and Cindy Walker to write the songs. I’m going to that show when I get to Heaven. I’ve played in quite a few all-women lineups here in Austin, as well as many mixed-gender bands, but neither has ever been on purpose. It’s just how things worked out. The best musicians are the best musicians. Gender has always been irrelevant to me. Good picking is good picking.
SS: My dream team would always have Jessi Colter, who is the coolest woman that has ever graced Earth. So, Jessi Colter, Lucinda Williams, Adele, Tracy Chapman, and Sheryl Crow. Tracy Chapman was my hero at one point. Remind me to tell you sometime my story about going to see her at the Backyard and at Central Park. She’s a badass.
4) Most surprising thing you’ve seen the other do live and onstage?
BL: It was a thrill for me the first time Sunny played one of my songs on the Opry. That was pretty special. “If Country Could Talk.” It was probably 2006 or 2007. I think she’s played the Opry over 40 times now.
SS: My favorite thing at Brennen’s show is watching her play and sing, obviously, but her humor is quite possibly the best that there is. One thing that sticks in my mind is when I was passing her tip jar at a gig one time, and she said over the mic (she was wearing a very short skirt), “Please tip me so I can afford the rest of my dress.”
5) Gnarliest “country”-type joke you know.
BL: This one isn’t gnarly, but it’s the only one I can think of: Why do you always take two Baptists fishing with you? Cause if you brought only one he’d drink all your beer.
SS: Well, this isn’t country necessarily, but it’s gnarly for sure. My dad always says, in reference to a fart: “If they ain’t paying rent, get ’em outta there.”
Doug Freeman, Dec. 25, 2015
Doug Freeman, Nov. 1, 2013
Raoul Hernandez, Aug. 25, 2017
Raoul Hernandez, March 17, 2017
Feb. 26, 2021
Feb. 5, 2021
Brennen Leigh, Sunny Sweeney, Sophie Johnson, Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen, Don Walser, Rusty Wier, Dale Watson, Louvin Brothers, George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Jessie Colter, Waylon Jennings, Cindy Walker, Lucinda Williams, Maybelle Carter, Tracy Chapman