My search for the signature sound in any given region of the United States has not always been conclusive. More often than not bands connect with producers, crossing borders and stylistic territories.
Take New Jersey’s The Smithereens. The band is known for an emotive slightly rustic and very manly sound – from the same well of masculinity that informs fellow New Jersey artists like Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi.
When that kind of Northern grit meets up with one of the architechs of the Southern jangle rock scene, the results become interesting. As the man who helped R.E.M. reach critical and later commercial stardom, Don Dixon might have seemed like an unlikely match for four guys from Carteret. Dixon was a critical component in helping to craft the emerging sound for The Smithereens producing their second, third and fifth album.
The second album Green Thoughts arrived just as the band has begun to gain traction with “Blood and Roses” a song taken from Especially For You that found itself on a number of soundtracks, most notably the film Dangerously Close and the TV show Miami Vice.
After that Green Thoughts easily trancended college radio and many of it’s tracks helped the band to become one of the early stars of the modern rock radio format (where they charted highly). Songs like “Only a Memory”, “House We Used to Live In” and the title track were not only saturating radio, but MTV as well. It was easy to see why.
Besides the approachable and down to earth demenure of the band, big power pop chords and catchy melodies was The Smithereen’s calling card. It never hurt that band leader Pat DiNizio’s voice sounded like a cross between Tim Finesse of Talk Talk and Elvis Costello with a head cold. His emotive delivery gained extra resonance when paired with Dixon’s knack for strong ’60s style blues-rock.
DiNizio’s like a beatnik, was always just on the edge of sounding soulful, much like Dixon would be on his own material. That tension along with simple drum, bass and guitar arrangements added atmosphere to songs like “Spellbound” without sounding necessarly dark or too brooding. Dixon and The Smithereens were a perfect match with Green Thoughts being the high point of their collaboration.