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Published: 2011/05/17
by Ron Hart

Sonny And The Sunsets
Hit After Hit

Fat Possum

If there is one thing to be said about San Francisco songwriter Sonny Smith, it’s that he sure knows how to spin a great yarn. After all, this is the man who wrote and recorded 200 songs for 100 made-up bands for his now-famous “100 Records” art project in 2010.

And if you were to believe the press release that came packaged with the stellar new album from he and his group The Sunsets, as apparently several witless bloggers had done upon the reviews they had written, Sonny launched his singing career in the mental ward of a Warm Springs Foundation Hospital somewhere in Texas and lived out off a van for three years. But the truth of the matter is that when he is not helping the less fortunate as a social worker in the Bay Area, Sonny Smith stays busy writing some of the best pop songs in the second decade of the 21st century, a practice that continues to positively evolve on Hit After Hit.

Once again flanked by a ragtag team of prolific local pals who serve as The Sunsets, including Shayde Sartin and Tim Cohen of the Fresh & Onlys, Tahlia Harbour of Citay and The Dry Spells fame, bassist and second generation rocker Ryan Browne (the son of Jackson) and Sub Pop recording artist Kelley Stoltz, this heavyweight indie ensemble continues to travel back to the future for inspiration, recycling hooks, hymns and harmonies from obscure doo-wop records from the 1950s with a cheeky inventiveness that hasn’t been levied in pop music since Jonathan Richman’s days fronting The Modern Lovers. The way songs like “She Plays Yoyo With My Mind,” with its hazy wash of psychedelic sunshine, The Beatles-at-The-Star-Club winsomeness of “Pretend You Love Me” and the surf city jangle of “Home and Exile” glean out of the speakers with such a dead-eyed authenticity, you’d be justified to stage a “birther”-type witch hunt to see if Sonny had fleeced the mojo of some poor pompadoured schlep from the Chance Records think tank.

But that’s the great thing about this Sonny Smith. Much like his hero, underground comix icon and old-timey music enthusiast Robert Crumb, it seems as though he likes to continuously keep you guessing at every turn. Be it in his PR bio, the music he emulates in his own sound or the strange parade of characters that exist in the songs he writes, you never know where he is going to take you next. And it is that penchant for unpredictability in his art which makes him one of this decade’s true breakout performers.

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