Sonny's Days

In which we meet a donkey, some crows, and Sonny Smith, who is not a folk singer

"Having a kid gives you a different perspective immediately," Smith says, when asked about the record's themes. "I wrote all these songs in the last few months and when it was done I realized that almost all of them take place at the edge of a river, or at a place of departure, or about to cross a border. I didn't mean it to be that way, but I started to realize that halfway through. Every record you make probably has autobiography in it."

This is particularly true of the record's second act, "The Donkey Killed the Crow." It opens with a tender duet of acoustic guitars and Smith's sung stage directions. "The stage is split as if a tree had been hit by a bolt of lightning and had fallen in the middle of a road," he half-speaks over a slow shuffle. "And has a blind donkey and a couple-a crows standing by a river that has overflowed." When the donkey (Peggy Honeywell) and the crows (Jolie Holland and Vetiver's Andy Cabic) come in, they exchange a few mournful words that end with Honeywell promising that "just like a drifter, soon to be delivered, next time you see me I'll have crossed the river."

On the page, the singing donkey and crows might seem a bit ridiculous, but with the soft strum of guitar and the touching delivery, Smith's song resonates as a tenderhearted parable -- the kind of thing that we were told as kids and didn't really understand until much later. It's the story of a strange trip that ends in a determined salvation.

Smith's doorbell rings and dinner guests arrive. We finish talking in the kitchen, and hear the guests through the door to the living room, playing with Oliver and plucking the banjo. When they come in to set the table, the scene has the homeyness of that Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting, but set in a Mission apartment and populated with a congregation of San Francisco bohemians -- it has the same slightly off-kilter charm of one of Smith's tunes. This is his story; this is his song.

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