Editors' pick

Sonny and the Sunsets


Editorial Review

Album review: "Hit After Hit"

Rock-and-roll used to be big and bad, but in the age of death metal and gangsta rap it can sound as innocent as a nursery rhyme. That guilelessness suits Sonny Smith, whose tunes are as direct as anything on the Ramones' debut album. On "Hit After Hit," the nearly 40-year-old Smith revisits teen love with such earnest ditties as "Don't Act Dumb" and "Pretend You Love Me."

Smith is perhaps best known for his "100 Records" gallery installation, for which he wrote and recorded songs for 100 imaginary bands. The Sunsets - named for the San Francisco neighborhood where he lives - were among the made-up groups. But the fiction has become a reality, with a permanent lineup of part-timers that includes inventive drummer Kelley Stoltz (a singer-guitarist in his other life). The Sunsets' simple arrangements and subtle accents greatly enhance Smith's plain-spoken material.

Like such kindred spirits as Jad Fair, Smith has been known to pen tunes about sci-fi and monster movies. Yet on "Hit After Hit," all the threats are recognizably human. Sonny and the Sunsets' career may still border on make believe, but feelings conveyed by such songs as "Heart of Sadness" are genuine.

--Mark Jenkins, July 22, 2011