The title of Sunny War’s new album, Anarchist Gospel (out Feb. 3 on New West Records), captures the singer’s desire to burn down the houses of pain—relationships, social systems, addictions—that have imprisoned her and to embrace the urge to transcend. Anarchy clears the ground so that the seeds of love and hope can be planted and grow. There’s hope in the midst of destruction, and it’s almost as if Sunny War puts into these 14 songs the themes of Octavia Butler’s novel Parable of the Sower—itself an anarchist gospel.
The gospel-inflected “Love’s Death Bed” opens the album. Grammy nominee Allison Russell trades vocals with Sunny War over the shuffling call-and-response of backing vocalists Maureen Murphy, Nickie Conley, and Kyshona Armstrong. All of this is punctuated by Chris Pierce’s shimmering harmonica wails.
The bright “No Reason” percolates with a hard-charging skiffle beat. The lyrics locate human nature somewhere between the angelic and the demonic. There’s often no rhyme or reason for what we do. Sometimes we’re slaves to forces beyond ourselves that can be exalted (angelic) or debased (demonic).
Jazz and psychedelic soul reverberate through the echoing sonic spaciousness of “Swear to Gawd,” evoking the pain of dysfunctional, destructive relationships. The ringing guitars of “New Day” fold into the roominess created by Billy Contreras’ strings to deliver a poignant ode to love and starting over.
“His Love” is a country rambler with echoes of early Lovin’ Spoonful jug band music. It evokes the emotional ups and downs of love, while the bluesy, atmospheric “Higher” conveys the depths of loss and the heights of hope.
Sunny War’s vocals on the expansive “Sweet Nothing” touch deep emotional chords and evoke the exquisite depth of pain and pleasure that lives within the hollowness of the heart and soul.
There’s a raw beauty on all the songs on Anarchist Gospel. Sunny War wears her emotions on her sleeve in her brilliant songwriting. With her stirring vocals and moving guitar, she calls forth the deep shadows that pass over the human heart, and the redemption that lies in wait.
Anarchist Gospel is available HERE.