Review: Sunny War Remains Focused on ‘Anarchist Gospel’

Sunny War
Anarchist Gospel
(New West)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

The road that led to folk singer Sunny War’s first high-profile indie release was tougher and fraught with more harrowing experiences than most deal with in a few lifetimes. Addicted to alcohol, meth, and heroin at a young age, and also homeless for a while, she watched friends die before they were 25. Pulling herself out of that hole through music, War recorded five albums for a variety of obscure, often difficult-to-find imprints.

Thankfully critics found them. 

The singer/songwriter/guitarist received near universal accolades, most describing her as a fresh young talent. Her nimble, fingerpicked lines, soft yet riveting voice combining tones of Joan Armatrading and Tracy Chapman, along with songs balancing the personal and political, showcased a unique talent with a promising future. This recent advancement to the well-respected New West label should further that recognition. 

The production and scope have expanded, partially through the assistance of celebrated producer/mixer Andrija Tokic. He coordinated a taut, stripped-down outfit along with guests Chris Pierce (harmonica/vocals), David Rawlings (guitar/banjo), and backing vocals from Allison Russell and Kyshona Armstrong among others. 

Although War’s folk side remains prominent, there’s restrained rock (“No Reason”), country (“His Love”), Latin (Van Hunt’s “Hopeless”), and the titular gospel (“Loves Death Bed”) tied together by her warm, rootsy vocals. These songs bubble under rather than deliver knockout punches. The seven-minute ballad “Sweet Nothing” shimmers with delicate strings, vibraphone, and tympani, building tension as it recounts a sputtering relationship with Let’s make a dream of this tragedy

She shifts into waltz time for a version of Ween’s “Baby Bitch” complete with an f-bomb and a children’s choir, then laments the effects of climate change on the jazzy/blues-inflected “Earth.”

The 14 tracks clocking in at 50 minutes speak to War’s prolific nature, one that encompasses her diversity yet remains focused on vocal, lyrical, and melodic talents that this disc’s enhanced production, and budget, spotlight.

Photo by Joshua Black Wilkins / New West Records

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