Guitarist Sunny War boils life down to its essence on Simple Syrup | Music Review | Chicago Reader

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Guitarist Sunny War boils life down to its essence on Simple Syrup


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The Nashville-born, Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Sunny War is known for her clawhammer fingerstyle guitar playing, vivid autobiographical lyrics, and distinctive sound that starts at the crossroads of blues, country, folk, and punk, and only expands from there. She left home as a teenager to busk on Venice Beach and in San Francisco with friends she met in local punk scenes, and since then she’s battled homelessness, substance abuse, and domestic violence. After releasing a couple albums on her own in the mid-2010s, she stepped into the national limelight with 2018’s With the Sun, released by LA-based label Hen House Studios—that January, Rolling Stone named her one of “10 New Country Artists You Need to Know.” These days War is firmly entrenched in Los Angeles, and her latest album, Simple Syrup, follows a busy period when she launched a downtown chapter of Food Not Bombs, participated in Black Lives Matter protests, and released a couple EPs and a few singles (including “Amen,” a gospel- and funk-driven collaboration with fellow songwriter Chris Pierce under the name War & Pierce). War recorded Simple Syrup at Hen House Studios, working with producer and longtime collaborator Harlan Steinberger, who owns the studio and its label. Her soft guitar and hushed vocals lead the way as she blurs the lines between styles, and though the album’s songs easily flow together, each one is memorable in its own right; opener “Lucid Lucy” lands like a sweet lullaby, “Losing Hand” has a charming old-timey feel, and “A Love So True” rhapsodizes about romance over a hypnotic, soulful groove. War wrote most of the material before the pandemic, but on the jazz-tinged “It’s Name Is Fear,” she speaks directly to the anxious, lonesome, or regretful feelings that preoccupied so many of us during lockdown: “The life we knew, it came and went / Ready or not, the change is here,” she sings. Despite its foreboding mood, the song overflows with the power and resilience we’ll need to live our post-pandemic lives to the fullest.   v

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