Longtime Companion

If you think singing off-key or playing your instrument with loose professionalism are necessarily musical detractors, well, reality says otherwise. Just ask Sonny Smith, the one-man brain trust behind San Francisco’s Sonny & the Sunsets. With their third full-length LP, Longtime Companion, Smith and his rotating cast of music-makers have traded the beach party of Tomorrow Is Alright and Hit After Hit for a barn dance; that is to say, fuzz pedal for the pedal steel. But Longtime Companion is not a case of a band shifting gears so much as it is a prolific songwriter deciding to write a country album for the hell of it. And luckily Smith stays true to his natural charms in the process. “Year of the Cock,” for example, channels the spirit of Luther Perkins’ Fender Esquire to near perfection, yet maintains every last aspect of Smith’s quirkiness and savant-like irreverence. The highlight of the record, though, is the complete reinvention of “Pretend You Love Me.” The two-minute jaunt of slapdash pop that concluded Hit After Hit is boldly transformed into a sultry, five-and-a-half-minute piece of Western panache. By the album’s conclusion, it’s only a fair assessment to proclaim it Smith’s most cohesive and vibrant work to date.