Album Review

Sunny War - Anarchist Gospel

War lays bare her psyche, alchemizing personal struggles into a sonic guidebook to survival.

Holler Country Music
January 31, 2023 11:41 am GMT

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Sunny War traveled a long road punctuated by addiction and homelessness to arrive at what should be her breakthrough moment, the release of her album Anarchist Gospel. Over 14 vividly authentic songs that speak to her deep well of life experience, War lays bare her psyche, alchemizing personal struggles into a sonic guidebook to survival.

While pain in her voice is palpable throughout her work, she and producer Andrija Tokic (Alabama Shakes, Hurray for the Riff Raff) make something redemptive, at times almost joyful out of that grist.

“Good intentions that you keep / Don’t change the fact that you’re a beast / You’re an angel / You’re a demon / Ain't got no rhyme / Got no reason” she sings with world-weary self-acceptance on the up-tempo ‘No Reason.’ Tokic’s production echoes War’s inner turmoil without obscuring her message. Snarling electric guitar underscore her stormy mood while the choir’s backing ‘oohs’ commiserate and add levity.

A unique fingerpicker with a punk-rock sensibility, War's music is rooted in the blues and a clear-eyed, no-nonsense vocal delivery. She busked on the streets of San Francisco and Los Angeles to hone her unique and sometimes raw sound, and there’s no questioning her veracity when she sings “All your life you can run / But it still cannot be safe” on ‘Shelter and Storm’.

She sounds like a shrewd, modern-day Nina Simone as she chronicles the aftermath of a breakup on the opening track: “On love’s death bed / I cry away a final hour,” she recounts, as a call-and-response choir featuring Allison Russel, Jim James, Jack Lawrence and Micah Nelson echoes the refrain.

It’s no accident Anarchist Gospel boasts such a varied and all-star cast; the record offers ample opportunity for creative collaboration (David Rawlings’ unmistakable acoustic guitar work runs like a river through ‘Higher’). War is a nimble player and performer, evoking comparisons not only to Simone, but Prince — as she plays the part of an argumentative authority on ‘Swear to Gawd’ — and the Beatles, on the jangly ‘His Love.’

By ‘Sweet Nothing’, the closing track, she’s more than earned the seven minutes she takes to bask in newfound love. After all that has come before, the song reads as a personal triumph - a fitting close to a victory of an album.

9/10

Anarchist Gospel is out on Friday 3rd February via New West Records. You can purchase the record from one of Holler's selected partners below:

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New West Records | 2023

Items featured on Holler are first selected by our editorial team and then made available to buy. When you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.,

Written by Deborah Crooks
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