Sunny War (born Sydney Lyndella Ward) is a singer and songwriter who puts a good deal of blues and jazz into her folk, creating her own special sound and vibe. She also has a distinctive style on guitar. Lyrically, Sunny War doesn’t shy away from addressing social issues and concerns, and yet her material has a very personal feel to it. If you haven’t heard it yet, you should certainly check out her “Orange Man,” which was released just before last year’s election and uses bits of speeches from that horrid soulless conman. Her new album, Simple Syrup, features all original material, and includes a song inspired by the troubles brought on by the pandemic. She has several musicians joining her on specific tracks, including Milo Gonzalez on electric guitar, Aroyn Davis on bass, Paul Allen on drums and percussion, Niall Taro Ferguson on cello, and Matt Demerritt on saxophone. This is a completely engaging album, one of the year’s best.
Sunny War opens this album with a beautiful, touching and gentle song, “Lucid Lucy,” which features Niall Taro Ferguson on cello, an instrument that always has a strong effect on me. Here is a taste of the lyrics: “Tears in this world become waterfalls/Where there’s no borders, where there are no walls/Where happiness is no dream at all.” The other lines that stand out for me each time I listen to this song are “Tell your secrets, tell them anything/No need to worry, it’s only a dream.” She then changes gears with “Mama’s Milk” which has a jazzy, groovy vibe and features a good bass line. But the catchiest element here is the vocal line, the rhythm of it. She made a video for this song, employing the use of cue cards for certain key words as Bob Dylan did for “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” another song with a great rhythm to the delivery of lyrics. Check out these lines: “You need to calm down, check yourself/Get your head right/Get a therapist, go to church if you need to/I do not exist to uplift or appease you.” Yeah, there is a whole lot of strength here. And when you think this track can’t possibly get any cooler, we get some nice work on saxophone.
Some excellent interaction between Sunny War’s acoustic guitar and Milo Gonzalez’s electric guitar begins “Like Nina.” No other musicians perform on this track. This is a compelling song that refers to other vocalists – Nina, Tina, Aretha. She mentions them only by their first names, but it is clear whom she is talking about. “Tell me that I look Like Nina/Got her same demeanor/Same sad look in my eyes/Girls like us don’t dance like Tina/Sing love songs like Aretha/Ain’t got no beyhive.” I had no idea what “beyhive” meant, had to look it up. Apparently, it refers to fans of Beyoncé. The song is about certain expectations and images that people have about black female vocalists. That’s followed by “Kiss A Loser.” The relaxed, mellow sound of this song makes it feel approachable, but the lyrics tell a different story. “And if I let you in, I’ll be your end somehow/‘Cause I’m a riot in the bed, a bullet in your head/I’ll tell you that I love you while I’m wishing you were dead.” This song has such an interesting dynamic, and it features some really good work on guitar as well.
The second line of “A Love So True” stands out to me, for it is deliciously sad: “And all the love that you’ve known has come and gone.” And yes, this is a love song, a song about needing love. When it kicks in, this track has a pleasant groove and a smooth vibe. “It’s a slow burn, but the flame is still there/Everybody deserves a turn, though game’s unfair/Has it been long, or has time stood still/Have the ones who’ve done you wrong stolen love’s appeal.” Toward the end, the guitar drops out for a moment, Sunny’s vocals supported just by bass and drums, a beautiful moment. Then Niall Taro Ferguson joins her again on cello for “Losing Hand.” “Well, just maybe I’ve been dealt that losing hand/Sure is a gamble every time I live to see another day.” Talk about the blues, and yet this song has something of a cheerful sound, particularly in some of the guitar work. That’s followed by “Love Is A Pest,” a title which makes me smile. There is a jazzy vibe to this one too, and I really like the guitar work. Paul Allen plays tablas on this track, and Harlan Steinberger is on bells.
“Its Name Is Fear” is a song about these strange times we find ourselves in, a time of isolation and fear during the pandemic. On this track, Sunny War is unaccompanied. She plays both guitar and bass on this one. “The life we knew, it came and went/Ready or not, the change is here/We can’t renew the time we spent/There’s a new game, its name is fear.” Even as we begin to emerge from the pandemic, the fear seems to remain. Even after getting vaccinated, I still keep a distance from anyone I encounter who is not wearing a mask. When will that pass? I don’t know. A line from this song that grabs me is “Fear turns sadness into violence.” That’s followed by “Deployed And Destroyed,” a moving song about a friend who served in the military and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, someone she feels she can no longer help. Sometimes we have to put boundaries in place, and this song is about that difficult decision. Then Angelo Moore joins Sunny War on theremin and backing vocals for “Eyes.” “Some may say I’m haunted/Others call it blessed/Either way, I’m unwanted/Leave my lover stressed.” This track also features cello. The album concludes with “Big Baby,” a song that Sunny War performs solo on vocals and acoustic guitar. This track features a fantastic vocal performance. “Can’t get this melody out of my head/We play it all wrong/Every single song/With strings old and dirty.”
CD Track List
- Lucid Lucy
- Mama’s Milk
- Like Nina
- Kiss A Loser
- A Love So True
- Losing Hand
- Love Is A Pest
- Its Name Is Fear
- Deployed And Destroyed
- Big Baby
Simple Syrup was released on March 26, 2021.