June 30, 2011

Sonny Smith :: This Is My Story, This Is My Song

I've been mesmerized by the music of San Francisco's Sonny Smith from the moment I first heard his breakout 2009 single, "Too Young To Burn." Whip-smart, playful, and timeless, Sonny's music draws on everything from classic folk singer-songwriters like Woody Guthrie and Jonathan Richman to Doo-wop, Beat poetry, surf-rock, and 50s girl groups. Releasing music under his own name, with his band the Sunsets, and in fictional groups that utilize a revolving cast of friends like Earth Girl Helen Brown (Heidi Alexander of the Sandwitches), Zig Speck and His Specktones (Ty Segall), and the Loud Fast Fools (Tim Cohen of the Fresh & Onlys), Sonny has earned a reputation as one of contemporary music's most prolific and creative talents. And Sonny doesn't just churn out records—he makes consistently great ones, like this year's superb Hit After Hit. Don't believe me? Dial the time machine back 10 years and play This Is My Story, This Is My Life—his second release, and a classic.

When Sonny was 17, he moved to Gunnison, Colorado and worked the local bars and clubs playing blues piano. According to Home Skillet Records, a few years later at a gig at the Rite Spot in San Francisco the piano was so badly out of tune that Sonny was forced to add the guitar and harmonica to his live repertoire. This Is My Story, This Is My Song hints at what those early performances might have sounded like: warm, intimate, and sparsely decorated. It's a much quieter record than either Hit After Hit or Tomorrow Is Alright with Sonny's voice often accompanied by nothing more than his acoustic guitar and the occasional sprinkling of banjo or a female backup vocalist. You also get a taste here of Sonny's old piano playing days on the title-track: a lonesome solo piano take that sounds like it was recorded in an empty bar after closing. What's most impressive is how dateless the recording feels: the 12 songs here are just as likely to have been found in the dollar bin at your local record store mixed in with other lost 60s and 70s classics as it is be standing shiny and freshly shrink wrapped in the new release section. There's no timestamp here. The songs may not be as immediate or clever as recent cuts like "Acres of Lust" or "The Bad Energy From LA Is Killing Me," but they're certainly just as good. If you're a fan of Sonny's music, this is an essential recording that really captures a younger and perhaps more serious version of the musician.

It's a hard record to find, but you can snag a few songs below as well as on Sonny's website. Insound also has the CD.

Sonny Smith - "This Is My Story, This Is My Song" (from This Is My Story, This Is My Song)
Sonny Smith - "Life In Flames" (from This Is My Story, This Is My Song)
Sonny Smith - "Milkcow" (from This Is My Story, This Is My Song)

Loud Fast Fools - "Time To Split" (from Sonny Smith's 100 Records Volume 2: I Miss The Jams)

Sonny Smith

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