Sonny Smith is a prolific songwriter. Understatement. Coming off the massive 100 Records project, where he wrote and recorded 200 songs in a year, most people would have taken a few years off to regroup. Smith didn’t even slow down, and with Hit After Hit, he’s turned in the best record of his career. While the previous Sunsets record leaned toward folk, both in the writing and instrumentation, Hit After Hit toughens up and reaches back to the simple pop sounds of the '50s and early '60s for inspiration. He and the Sunsets strip the sound down to the basics, trim away all the fat, and let the melodies and Smith’s artless croon carry the day. It’s a formula that would fail in the hands of a less-interesting songwriter or a less compelling singer, since most people need all the bells and whistles of volume, orchestration, and dynamics to keep listeners interested. Smith and the band generate all the excitement they need out of the bare necessities. Whether tackling loping ballads (“I Wanna Do It”), scorching rockers (“Home and Exile”), or midtempo frat rockers (“Teenage Thugs”), the band is tough, lean, and provides perfect backing for Smith. Tahlia Harbour's backing vocals blend perfectly with Smith’s leads, Kelley Stoltz keeps it simple but steady on the drums, and guests like Thee Ohsees' John Dwyer keep things popping. The record really does live up to its title; by the end, you realize that there is no filler, no wasted moments, and nothing that doesn’t feel perfect for the best imaginary pop radio station on the airwaves. Sonny Smith will never be Buddy Holly, but if Buddy were around, he’d recognize a kindred spirit. So would Rick Nelson, Bobby Fuller, or Marshall Crenshaw (who isn’t dead but still...), or anyone else who made simple but powerful pop music with brains, guts, and hooks sharp enough to cut glass. Hit After Hit is that good.
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