erasing clouds

Sonny Smith, Fruitvale

by dave heaton

Sonny Smith's Fruitvale album looks like a comic book. And certainly, Smith possesses the imagination and sense of humor to reinforce that colorful notion. But his songs have a real-life side that shouldn't be ignored; the albums seems a reflection of his unique way of looking at life around him, at his neighborhood and what goes on.

The spritely "Good Folks" starts "I live on the bad side of town," and proceeds to paint a memorable portrait of that life. The bouncy melody and Smith's wit gives the song a storybook crime-story tone, one reinforced by songs like "Bad Cop" and "Private Dick."

Leroy Bach (ex-Wilco) plays many of the instruments with Smith, though there's a host of other guests too. Together they yield a light touch to this first-person, troubadour folk-pop music, with piano and guitar, plus a lot of open space left. Lightness amplifies the in-the-clouds but rooted-in-dirt quality of the songs. Many are quite pretty as well; there's a lightness to the melodies that makes them float. It's complicated and reinforced by songs like "Private Dick" and "Bad Cop". There's real-life stories here, with human stories of pain underneath, which anyone living in a big city can relate to. Like the "bad copy in the ghetto" Smith treads towards fantasy in his description, but always heads back to reality. "He's like a vampire / but really like a bad cop", he sings. The catchy hook itself might seem fanciful, but it carries this fact of life in the city: "Bad cops in the ghetto / shooting poor folks in the back."


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