Home Live Review Live Review: Sunny War w/ Brian Dunne @ Songbyrd Music House — 2/17/24

Live Review: Sunny War w/ Brian Dunne @ Songbyrd Music House — 2/17/24

Live Review: Sunny War w/ Brian Dunne @ Songbyrd Music House — 2/17/24
Sunny War performs at Songbyrd Music House on Feb. 17, 2024. (Photo by Steve Satzberg)

Sunny War has a unique and beguiling personality. Recently introducing her song “Big Baby” at DC’s Songbyrd Music House, she explained that the title of the song refers to the name she has for her guitar. She went on to say she got Big Baby “from a creepy guy on Craiglist” (as though one meets any other type of guy on that site!). She described the situation as “either I get a guitar or I go missing.”

Needless to say, Sunny got the guitar and didn’t go missing, a fact for which everyone in the crowd at Songbyrd was surely grateful. For 75 minutes, she held the crowd in rapt attention, playing solo with just her acoustic guitar. It takes a special kind of artist to command that level of attention in that format, and Sunny is definitely a special artist. She is a fine guitar player, using a fingerpicking style that hearkens back to the great country blues guitarists.

Sunny told the audience that, before moving to Nashville a few years ago, “I thought I was playing country because no one else on Venice Beach was fingerpicking.” She introduced “New Day” as “the first country song I wrote when I was 16.”

Watch Sunny War perform “New Day” live for The Current on YouTube:

In Nashville, Sunny said, she encountered the genre’s gatekeepers, who informed her that music is not “country.” It’s interesting that Sunny brought this up, as country music is currently in the midst of a discussion about its treatment of Black artists, spurred by Beyonce releasing a country album. Some have argued that Black musicians invented the genre, though I prefer to say that many of its roots lie with Black artists. (I don’t think musical genres are “invented”; I believe they emerge from their predecessors.) If one looks at early country music, and up through the ’50s, many songs had “blues” in the title. (And a few years ago, Hank Williams, Jr., hardly a progressive figure, made an album of blues music.)

In addition to the obscuring of country’s Black roots, the genre has marginalized contemporary Black artists as well. Frankly, it’s marginalized anyone who isn’t a white male; a few years ago, there was much discussion of how country radio places strict limits on playing female artists.

Does Sunny sound like what we think of as “country” music? No, she clearly doesn’t sound like someone like Jason Aldean. I don’t know if I’d call her music country, but I’d certainly call it Americana.

It hasn’t been an easy journey for her. Her path has been marked by serious struggles with substance abuse and homelessness after moving from her native Tennessee to Los Angeles. She’s been clean now for more than a dozen years, in which time her career has gradually grown and blossomed. Last year, she released her most heralded album, Anarchist Gospel, on the much-respected label New West Records.

Sunny’s wanderings have taken her far and wide and now to our show at Songbyrd Music House on Feb. 17. “Free Love,” she told the audience was inspired by time spent in San Francisco. “I started adopting the ideas of the hippies,” she said. Before breaking out as a solo artist, she spent many years as a member of the acoustic punk band the Anus Kids , who will reunite this coming summer to play a festival date. Sunny included one of their songs, “Downtown,” in her set.

Watch Sunny War perform “Downtown” live for Live at Lockett’s on YouTube:

Sunny opened her Songbyrd set with “All Life’s Worth,” followed by “Free Love,” then “Soul Tramp.” She stopped to adjust the mic, and there was a brief bit of banter on how she’s working on her posture before she continued with “If It Wasn’t Broken,” “He Is My Cell,” and “Can I Sit With You Awhile?” Introducing “Lucid Lucy,” she said, “I like to sleep a lot. It’s free, and you cand do it anywhere. You have to practice.” She added, “I’ve given up on reality.”

“Have Another Pill,” she said, “is about my first time in the psych ward.” (Once was enough for me.) The set rounded out with “New Day,” “Whole,” and “No Reason.”

Before Sunny’s set, New York singer-songwriter Brian Dunne opened the show. He started with the title cut of his latest album, last year’s Loser On The Ropes. His next song, “Optimist,” is about “trying to feel good about life again.” After “It’s A Miracle,” he talked about how a couple were vigorously making out during his set the previous night, and he encouraged anyone to do so if they had the inclination. He dedicated “Rockaway” to “my friend Joshua.” “New Tattoo,” a standalone single released in 2021, had, he explained, became an unexpected hit in the Netherlands. He finished his set with “Nobody’s Coming To Get you” (from his band Fantastic Cat), “If You Wanna Stay Awhile,” and “Sometime After This.”

It’s hard to believe I hadn’t seen Sunny War in five or six years; as Fairport Convention once asked, “Who knows where the time goes?” It was high time to see her again, and she didn’t disappoint.

Here are some some photos of Sunny Day performing at Songbyrd Music House on Feb. 17, 2024. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Steve Satzberg.

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