Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sonny and the Sunsets on Empty Cellar Records

The Endless Nest Collective recording division, Empty Cellar Records has teamed up again with Sonny Smith alongside his massive, amazing 100 7" records project, of which these tracks are sort of an extension of that project...a novel Sonny had started broke into 100 pieces and these songs were assembled from some of the pieces. All I keep thinking about Sonny is, what do you do next? You came up with 100 fictional bands singles, recorded the music, came up with, comissioned the sleeves and then played them in a custom jukebox for the gallery show? How do you top the yearlong effort of something like that?
Releasing yet another single on Empty Cellar is a pretty good start. His single fever obviously hasn't been cured yet, and Sonny had enough material for a 4 track EP, collaborating with Heidi and Grace of the Sandwitches and a fictional band (?) the Transients, Sonny presents these 4 tracks which were inspired by a near death experience in the ocean.
This could be super downer serious gloomy acoustic, but Sonny sounds like he's taken the opposite approach and is optimistically appreciating each minute he's still playing and recording.

Sonny even created his last will and testament in song form with the first track on the A-Side "Throw my ashes from the pier". This song is full of that warm tight delay, especially in the vocals, that classic country, bluegrass rock sound that I love from hearing early, early Elvis Blue Moon...I know, Elvis, it's a ridiculous reference, but there's still something to hearing those raw demos of the early years.
I understood why people called reverb wet. You can almost hear a 'drip' sound in the spring echo when the strings are a little muted and your strumming high on the fretboard.
Sonny's coming to terms with what to do when the bucket gets kicked, and ending up scattered around in the ocean sounds pretty good. You don't want to get morbid about it, but why not on a high note, at the end of the best possible day. But why even paraphrase...Sonny gets this across in a much better way.
"Through the fog and haze" is a slow trip back down to that ocean again. He's just a great songwriter...and to naturally get this introspective feel across takes a lot of commitment. The instrumentation is so minimal, he He's determined to make something good out of that experience and I can't help but read into every word of each track:

Oh to behold such sorrow
To behold such pain
Will I never see the sun

But like Will Oldham he makes it sound so damn nice, you don't even notice the sadness creeping up. The best is how Sonny chose to keep these subtleties... the raw twang of an acoustic mispick, that imperfections that made it through for the sake of capturing the best take without cutting and pasting. But there's more than just a strong Oldham connection in the melancholy and tragedy, Will's brother, Paul mastered these tracks for Sonny.

"Cathedral in the desert" over on the B-Side has Sunny possibly thinking about a higher power's role in existence, with an upbeat track of shiny steel acoustic.
"Take a hard look down that long corridor" finds Sonny way offshore and this has to be it, the big 7" in the sky, reevaluate your life pretty's the saddest sentiment and I really hope I don't even have a moment to realize it's the end and there's nothing you can do about it. Don't catch yourself singing along with this one.
Sonny taught me to be glad I'm on dry land next to a record player.

I think deliberately every track changes slightly in tone, a whole different character...a new narrator with the help of subtle effects, engineering changes. Sonny's vocals go from doubled up reverb to clear, close mic'd, almost cracking vocals. I think his 100 records project has inherently always been in him, in every song he writes, putting himself into an experience with his specific point of view, and musically it's restrained and as classy as any past and contemporary country legend I can think of.

This one is available from Empty Cellar Records who says:

Not long ago, Sonny Smith (Sonny & The Sunsets) survived a near-drowning off the coast of northern california. The experience affected him profoundly and led to a wealth of output including a play, a novel, and a stack of songs. Sonny's critically acclaimed "100 Records" project is itself a direct product of Sonny's fight with the sea. A novel he began, "Adelard the Drowned", broke into 100 pieces. Four of those pieces come as songs on this 7" e.p., each bound to the next by a twisted braid of water and death. Through the fog and the haze, however, there lies in these songs a shared sense of redemption, transformation, or reawakening. Featuring appearances by Heidi and Grace of the The Sandwitches and a long-lost band called The Transients, this record features Sonny's songwriting at its strongest, staring death in the face. Perhaps, this is in part why the ocean gave him back. Recorded in San Francisco and mastered by Paul Oldham, each record includes a comic book, four full-color album covers, and a high-quality digital drownload.

More of Sonny's acoustic instrumentalism and a sample of the sad, personal comic, (the best kind) that comes with the single is available here:

It's another great extra level to the work and I've really never seen it work so well together.

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