Sunny War

REVIEW: Sunny War “Anarchist Gospel”


Sunny War — Anarchist Gospel

“Closure” is a self-help buzzword that…doesn’t mean anything in the real world. We seem to be in an awful rush to “heal” and move on, usually at the expense of learning something from the scars we’ve incurred. Well, that’s not Sunny War’s way. The Nashville-based singer-songwriter-extraordinarily gifted guitar player prefers to keep those wounds uncovered as a reminder of both the gashes they once were and the imperfections we all live with. Her latest album, Anarchist Gospel, digs into some of the roughest moments in her own life and how they’ve defined her, both the good and the bad.

The “gospel” in Anarchist Gospel comes out in the first track, with War backed by the chorus of Maureen Murphy, Nickie Conley and Kyshona Armstrong, plus the first of two guest appearances from Allison Russell. Lyrically, “Love’s Death Bed” deals with one of War’s many recent traumas – a rough break-up. Although she’s more than ready to say goodbye to bad love, she won’t run from the permanent damage it’s done – “But I hope/It was fun/Being the last heartbreak of mine.” “No Reason” finds her pitting her best and worst halves against each other – “Bust your back trying to behave/To your best self you are a slave” – then decides, at least for the moment, the only answer is a scorcher of a guitar solo.

Anarchist Gospel rocks right out the gate, more so than any previous Sunny War record, but it’s much more than just a guitar album. She uses her voice to its full instrumental potential, most remarkably on “His Love,” with her multi-tracked vocals reflecting partners on divergent paths – “It seems his love just fades away/As my love grows” The roster of guests stars is impressive – in addition to Russell (who also takes a verse on a cover of Van Hunt’s “Hopeless”), David Rawlings shows up on banjo and acoustic guitar, the latter on a left-field cover of Ween’s “Baby Bitch.” Jim James (My Morning Jacket) kicks in a vocal assist on “Earth,” adding to the nightmare hippie vibe as War details the damage we’re doing, via pollution and violence, to our home – “Sound the alarm/Reach out to your fake God/Time to disarm/The soldiers of the facade.”

But even these biggest of imminent catastrophes boil down to small, internal struggles. War is fond of saying that, “Everybody is a beast just trying their hardest to be good,” and that struggle often takes place in a society that, at times, actively works to counteract individual betterment. Her personal battles are found across Anarchist Gospel. The sped-up shuffle of “Test Dummy” has War facing down her addiction demons along with a much more ominous threat – “With cocaine and heroin/Oh so quietly they crept/Dead or rotting in prison/Exactly how they want us kept.” In “Higher,” which begins with subtle organ and pedal steel before taking a more cacophonous turn, War fights against the pull of losing herself in that destructive relationship – “Somewhere in my memories/I held my head much higher.” But she’s able to pour all of that experience into the record’s last track. “Whole,” which features some gorgeous guitar/piano interplay between War, John James Tourville and Jo Schornikow, urges guilt-free happiness over money and pleasing others – “Today/Could be the last you know/Happy’s how you oughta go.” Don’t hide your scars – realize you’ve earned them, and keep on living.

Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “I Got No Fight” – beginning with War’s acoustic guitar and Schornikow’s raspy Farfisa line, the track ends up in a gorgeous electric solo, showing (once again) that Sunny’s got PLENTY of fight left.

Anarchist Gospel was produced and engineered by Andrija Tokic and mastered by Dave Gardner. All original songs written by Sunny War, with Chris Pierce co-writing “Swear to Gawd.” Additional musicians on the album include Tokic (percussion), Megan Britt Coleman (drums, percussion, claps), Dennis Crouch (upright bass, bass), John James Tourville (guitar, acoustic guitar, timpani, bowed cymbal, pedal steel, percussion, Dobro, vibraphone, Omnichord), Jo Schornikow (organ, piano, Farfisa, vibraphone, Wurlitzer, Fender Rhodes, Mellotron, synthesizer), Chris Pierce (vocals, harmonica), Allison Russell (vocals), Jack Lawrence (bass, synthesizer), David Rawlings (banjo, acoustic guitar), Micah Nelson (12-string guitar), Billy Contreras (strings), Maureen Murphy, Nickie Conley, Kyshona Armstrong and Jim James (backing vocals) and School Zone (Children’s Choir): Drew Carroll, Alec O’Connell and Sam Hoffman.

Go here to order Anarchist Gospel (out February 3):

Check out tour dates here:

Enjoy our previous coverage here: Interview: Sunny War on Food Not Bombs, Venice Beach Sound and “Simple Syrup”

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