by Imogen Speith
Sunny War born (Sydney Lyndella Ward) to a single mother lead an unconventional childhood. War describes it as nomadic. Her mother’s bohemian lifestyle saw Ward moving from place to place, including stays in Colorado and Michigan. Most stays were not for very long, usually about a year or so. War expands, “Throughout my whole childhood, I was in a different place every other year, so naturally, I am not used to staying in one place for too long. I think it is time to leave once people get to know your name.” Music became her refuge. “I was really depressed all the time, but I was playing guitar all the time. I would hang out with my cat. I did not have a lot of friends when I was younger,” says War. Finally moving to California after a stint of Michigan, and Nashville, Ward found her ultimate place of happiness in the eclectic vibe of Venice Beach.
Local art and music advocates in Venice soon became aware of the young guitarists’ claw hammer style – a complex banjo style of guitar playing frequently used by Southern acoustic blues guitarists. After years of paying dues, Ward is gaining recognition and listeners are starting to hear the important message Ward is bringing to the fabric of blues with a folk flavoring.
“If I Wasn’t Broken” finds War lamenting about the truth in life, sometimes it takes a broken heart to know you have one is the thematic message. War has a voice that is uniquely her own. Of course, anytime a female with a guitar sings the blues there are always comparisons drawn, I won’t distill War to a “sounds like” name dropping cavalcade. What I will say is War has a smoothness of rounded notes and silken styling that gets to the core of the lyric with and easy-going style, a matter of fact assuredness that comes across as genuine and penetrating. Lyrically, I don’t think there is a human on earth that can’t relate to her lyrics as they portray what most of have gone through, and that is the aching of being heartbroken. At least the experiences make for great songs, and songwriters, as you can’t sing the blues without living them, right?
“Til I’m Dead,” offers a vintage approach, in two genres. Early blues featured hand claps and lyrics of despair, similarly mountain folk music used hand claps as a sense of rhythmic pulse now substituted by drums in modern music. Ward channels the ancestral sounds with a deep respect for its origins. Whereas “Finn” is a more electrified approach musically, but still with a focus on economics of instrumentation. “Finn” is portrayed as a person Ward feels great affection and affinity for, the tune is sung about in a poetic manner. Ward states her approach to music is much more about the lyrics. Ward explains; “lyrically With The Sun consists of poems from my diary. In 2016 I decided I was focusing too much on guitar and not enough on singing or WHAT I was singing. I made myself write more poems and tried to turn to the notebook more when I was feeling something. One morning I woke up and saw an unarmed black man get shot by police on Facebook. I wrote “I’m Human” that very day. In 2017 I was sober for 6 months (I relapsed before the end of the year) and I wrote “Static” as a personal ‘Keep going, you can do it!’ type of thing. I didn’t really have a plan or vision for this album, I just let it happen and come to me and I think that’s the approach to music I want to stick to.”
Certainly no one can argue with being true to one’s music axiom. War certainly has stood in the face of adversity and her truth resonates with every lyric of every tune. I think the success of her music lies in the honesty of her delivery, the revealing of her soul and the straightforward reverence she approaches it with. Her complexities are her strengths and her pain and regalement are revealed with each performance contained within, With the Sun.