Sonny & the Sunsets, Magic Trick | Schubas | Rock, Pop, Etc | Chicago Reader

Sonny & the Sunsets, Magic Trick Agenda Soundboard Recommended

When: Thu., Aug. 9, 9 p.m. 2012

For the past few years San Francisco pop songwriter Sonny Smith has been issuing a steady stream of albums that combine golden oldies with wistful indie and a dash of Daniel Johnston's childlike naivete. The latest from Sonny & the Sunsets, Longtime Companion (Polyvinyl), is a "country" record, and with it Smith joins heavyweights such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young in the very small group of pop musicians who've pulled off that conceit without completely embarrassing themselves. It's of course a breakup record, so Smith has replaced the twee, occasionally surreal lyrics of past releases with lines about feeling lonely and drinking too much wine, which ups the authenticity level significantly. And he seems to really know his stuff, especially the polished take on the Bakersfield sound that swept the country charts in the 60s. (Smith also paid tribute to longtime Bakersfield resident Buck Owens and his band the Buckaroos by naming his own backing group the Fuckaroos; its members have since become part of the Sunsets.) With any luck the success of this experiment won't lead him to write a prog-rock record or something, but even that might not turn out too bad. —Miles Raymer

Tim Cohen of San Francisco garage-pop band the Fresh & Onlys is a prolific songwriter who won't second-guess a first impulse—and most of his output is strong enough that an audience won't second-guess the results. A few years ago he began making solo recordings under his own name when he wasn't busy with the Fresh & Onlys, and for his latest album, Ruler of the Night (Hardly Art), he enlisted three full-time collaborators to flesh out the arrangements and play the music live as Magic Trick. The new record retains his one-take methodology and features the same sort of washed-out bedroom-studio sound as earlier solo material, but his intimate, psychedelic folk-pop gets a new depth from the lovely vocal harmonies of Noelle Cahill and Alicia Vanden Huevel. The album sounded sleepy the first time I heard it, but despite its heavy-lidded vibe it's since revealed a wealth of instrumental detail—swirling analog synths, the swoop of a mallet up a xylophone keyboard—and a vigorous tunefulness. —Peter Margasak Sonny & the Sunsets headline; Magic Trick opens.

Price: $12

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