Sonny Smith is most well-known, at least in the Interwebs for his work with the Sunsets, but the songwriter also has a few plays under his belt, although they’re probably more apt to be performed in song. Luckily, the good people over at Secret Seven Records have released One Act Plays, a recording of songs/plays that Sonny recorded back in 2006 for a play called The Dangerous Stranger.
Musically, it’s sort of what you expect from Sonny Smith, though it’s him stripped down to his bare bones, naked in front of the listener, as a true performer would be. His voice in these recordings closely resembles Bill Callahan, which is fitting seeing as he’s playing the role of storyteller in these tunes. But, he’s also got a lot of help from his friends such as Neko Case, Jolie Holland and Mark Eitzel; having all those guests on one record alone makes One Act Plays worthy of your purchase…and listening.
Thematically, Sonny admits to dealing with issues about family and redemption, and he also gives a nod to Sam Shepard. But, despite the well-developed characters (as much as one can in one act), Smith perhaps should acknowledge the great job he did turning these acts into actual songs, so much so that you can get lost in the songs themselves. My favorite is probably “The Stick-Up” just because it’s so stripped down, and the I chuckled each time the mention of stage directions comes into play; you don’t often get stage directions turned into actual lyrics. It’s odd, but in providing musical accompaniment, the characters are humanized, which is precisely what a good playwright would hope to do. You’ll even find “The Stick-Up (Part Two)” wrapping up the record, in case you feel like Sonny left you without a proper ending. Just remember, “when you shoot somebody, there ain’t no going back.”
Honestly, this isn’t a listening experience for everyone out there. But, there’s definitely an audience for this, as Stephin Merritt can attest. While I enjoy the music quite a bit, I appreciate the combination of literary elements being thrust into the foreground. For instance, the dialogue in “The Terrible Truth” brings to life a conversation between two men, who appear to be friends. It begins in a call-and-response manner, as a dialogue would appear on stage, but there’s a moment when the vocals unite, and it’s such an emotional moment that your body can’t help but tingle just a bit; then it ends. Like much of the songs, they’re all a separate entity or chapter, but they fit together, united by theme and song. Only Sonny Smith seems capable of doing such a thing. Find one song to love, or love them all, but if you love the theatre and you love music, then pick yourself up a copy of One Act Plays.[audio:http://austintownhall.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/01-The-Stick-Up.mp3]
Download:Sonny Smith – The Stick-Up [MP3]
You can order the LP directly from Secret Seven Records.