When Sonny Smith isn’t making music, he is providing social assistance for military veterans in his native San Francisco. When he isn’t doing that, he’s a part time columnist and works out of a friend’s surf shop. And when he isn’t doing that, he’s a visual artist, having had his work displayed in galleries in San Francisco, Austin and New York. It is hard to believe the man has time to be in a touring band and release records. At the end of August, however, Sonny and his band, the Sunsets, released their debut LP Tomorrow Is Alright.
The Sunsets have a lot of things working in their favor in terms of influences, resurrecting vintage clap-along doo-wop, as well as’70s-era Lou Reed and Jonathan Richman. The innocent, late night summer jam opener, “Too Young to Burn,” is packed with hooks. Its melodic chorus is reminiscent of classic Spector-esque pop, with all the Velvets’ drug references intact. “Strange Love” is Sonny’s big nod to John Lennon and Lou Reed – a sincere, ’60s-style ballad. With the exception of time, and a band name change to a bird or car reference, there is no way to tell the Sunsets are even a contemporary outfit at times.
There are even times when Sonny sings in conversation, (“Planet of Women”) fusing hints of Jonathan Richman. The mellower “The Houris” and “Stranded” are groovy, finger-snapping, tambourine-driven folk songs. Much of the second side, (“Chapters” and “Love Among Social Animals”) seems like a cleaner, less drug-influenced folk record in the vein of Beck circa One Foot in the Grave. “Lovin’ On An Older Girl” is the bluesiest number on the album, the band’s own take on a track like “I’m Waiting For The Man” or “Here She Comes Now,” putting a cap on an album spanning just 35 minutes over ten songs.
Sonny and the Sunsets have a fresh take on a sound that dominated the American airwaves in the ’50s and ’60s. The sound is raw and vintage, the type of songs you would expect to wake up to when your alarm sounds the AM radio. Although the songs aren’t far off from Jonathan Richman’s “There’s an Abominable Snowman in the Supermarket,” the album is easy to lose yourself in. A dose of nostalgia or a new take on an old style – whatever you call it – make time to sit down and give this album a thorough listen.