It seems like it wasn’t that long ago when I first heard singer-songwriter Sunny War and her unique blend of music, something that’s often referred to as punk-folk or folk-punk. I reviewed her album With the Sun just a little less than a year ago for Positive Feedback, and it wound up cracking my Top Five albums for 2018. Sunny War has it all–intelligent lyrics, a truly distinctive voice and an innovative approach to her acoustic guitar. With her new album, Shell of a Girl, she may also prove to be a prolific artist, the kind who keeps releasing quality albums because there’s so much she needs to say.
Parallels have been drawn between Sunny War and Tracy Chapman thanks to this acoustic approach, but I’ve never warmed up to Chapman’s voice despite the fact that so many audiophiles are drawn to her songwriting skills. I think that Sunny takes it a bit further with vocals that are more serene yet equally distinctive and consistent from song to song. Sunny War sings like a folk singer, and her songs often have an element of protest within them. She’s talking about things that matter in 2019, and she has a wonderfully lyrical way of stating those tough emotions with conviction.
Sunny War writes lyrics that read as poetry, something you can’t say about most songwriters who arrange words in a way that stresses the sound of those words and the manner in which they blend with the music. She sings as if she’s talking to you, deep from her heart. On “Soul Tramp,” she keeps it short and simple:
Well I’ll be damned if I ain’t gone before the sun rises
Damned if I’m not strong enough for what you call call crisis
Damn I can’t stay long enough to set up camp
God damn farewell so long, behold the soul tramp.
Sunny War, in other words, has trouble living in this world, of making her way without damaging everything that makes her whole. On “Rock and Roll Heaven,” she warns that “If you must off me/Please do it softly/Don’t wake my demons/Cos they’re dreaming.” She doesn’t make everything as soft and mesmerizing as her music, because that wouldn’t be true. If Sunny War is one thing, she’s honest–and that always comes at a price.
On Shell of a Girl, I noticed something I didn’t quite catch on With the Sun–the beautiful work on bass guitar. It’s supremely musical in the same way as Paul McCartney’s bass is, each note carefully chosen, with the performer never taking the easy way out. I was genuinely surprised to discover that she plays this bass as well, a bass which is also rich and deep and yet soft. There’s so much here that deserves repeated listens. Since this LP was pressed by ORG Music, it’s quiet and balanced and clear. If you haven’t explored Sunny War and her wounded yet beautiful world, now’s the time. Highly recommended, and sure to make my list of top recordings at the end of the year again.