REVIEW: Sunny War’s “With the Sun” Stunned This Reviewer Silent

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One of the best things about December is the chance to circle back and catch some of the art and entertainment (music, movies, television, etc) that we may have missed earlier in the year. With Americana music at a peak, there’s so much good stuff to check out that it’s easy to miss something. So when Sunny War’s album With The Sun landed in my inbox, I was intrigued. 40 minutes later, I was stunned silent.

Sunny War grew up in Nashville, moved to LA in her teens, then busked the streets and boardwalks of Venice Beach, leading to her mostly acoustic sound inflected with country blues and punk fury. The album begins with “If It Wasn’t Broken”, featuring a seemingly tentative singer reminding herself that losing everything has an odd upside: “How would you know you had a heart/If it wasn’t broken.” This track also features the first appearance of the amazing string work present throughout the album. Next up is a warts-and-all look at life in “Gotta Live It”, revealing the best and worst in a person – “I’m a drunk/And a dreamer” – who (like all of us) is the only one who can navigate her particular and peculiar existence. “Til I’m Dead” celebrates that existence with old school stompin’ and clappin’ and the declaration that, “There’s no time for sorrow/Not until I’m dead.”

Sunny War addresses the topical, too. “I’m Human” is a blistering retort to this decade’s police shootings, calling out “The ones who kill/And never go to jail.” And “Violent” addresses relationships gone desperately sour, but with a twist: “If you don’t leave and let me grieve/It could get violent.” It casts the woman as the potential aggressor, and it’s one of the best, most honest songs of the year.

Love still has a place on With The Sun. “The Change You Make” starts with the sounds of kids on a playground, and the song reminds us of the changes we can make to help those kids grow up. The title track is an ode to summer: “Sometimes I wonder how anyone can be/Happy in the winter/Happy in the autumn/Without the sunshine.”

But sad love proves to be the most deeply affecting. “He Is My Cell” mourns that, as its worst, “Love’s a villain/Love’s a pill.” “Finn” personifies that unhealthy infatuation: “I love you so much that I don’t mind/With whoever or wherever you have been.” And the album concludes with “Come Back”, which begins with strings, brings in acoustic and electric guitar (the latter from Milo Gonzalez),and turns into the type of tragic love song that not even the best episode of Grey’s Anatomy can hope to deserve. As the vocals and guitar fade back to strings at the end, you can’t help but wish for more from Sunny War. Soon.

With The Sun was produced and mixed by Harlan Steinberger at Hen House Studios in Venice, California and mastered by Bernie Grundman. Additional musicians include Micah Nelson (drums and piano), Nikita Sorokin (violin), Haley Demian (bass), Jules Pusch (viola and violin), and Aniela Marie Perry (cello). But the album breathes on Sunny War’s talents – a voice that’s strong when it should be, fragile when it MUST be, self-taught fingerstyle guitar work, and a collection of songs almost without peer in 2018.

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