SONiA – No Bomb Is Smart
CD review by Ian Dearden
TN483-2 – $25 TN154 Feb 23
SONiA is a musician and visual artist (aka Sonia Rutstein) from Baltimore, Maryland, USA, who now performs as SONiA disappear fear.
She has a lengthy discography in various formats, including as a member of a band called disappear fear, performing subsequently as SONiA & disappear fear, and in more recent times under the SONiA disappear fear monicker.
This album is her fourth solo album.
Her most recent solo album was released in 2019, when she also toured Australia, notably with multiple appearances at the last pre-COVID Woodford Folk Festival in December.
Both this album, and SONiA’s 2007 album, Tango, were nominated in the Grammy Awards for folk and pop categories.
This album, however, is very squarely planted in the folk/acoustic roots end of that axis, with a clear emphasis on acoustic instrumentation, gorgeous upfront vocals from SONiA and harmonies from her sister CINDY, all presented in well-crafted arrangements and featuring skilful songwriting from SONiA as well as one exquisite cover of a Phil Ochs song, ‘No More Songs’.
The string arrangement which underpins SONiA’s delicious fingerpicking on ‘No More Songs’ is superb, and together with CINDY’s harmonies, this song is a compelling and engaging start to what then unfolds as a compelling and engaging album.
SONiA has a deeply rooted commitment to social justice, activism and advocacy, and without being in any way didactic, that deep well of humanity and passion underpins all of the remaining original tracks on the album.
‘Sugarcane’ tells the story of a 94 year Bronx woman who travelled across New York to deliver a cane to a fireman who had broken his leg working on the 9/11 site.
‘I Am The Enemy’ also addresses the shock and horror of 9/11, and seeks to find a perspective to deal with the existential threat of that terrible day.
There are, inevitably, songs about love, lost, found and confused, including ‘Obviously’, ‘Ride This Ride’, ‘Gangsters Of Love’ and ‘Won’t Let Go’, and there are also songs with a more explicit social justice focus, including the title song, ‘No Bomb Is Smart’, ‘Rio’s Home’ and ‘Other Man’.
The album concludes with ‘A Different Star’, a heartfelt paean to the loss of friendship when someone close moves away, loses touch and leaves a void which can only be filled by (of course) a guitar.
Having immersed myself in this thoroughly delightful album, I now seriously regret not catching any of SONiA’s gigs at Woodford.
However, if you also missed her 2019 tour, you can find out more about her, her music and her visual art at soniadisappearfear.com.
It will, I promise, be well worth the effort.