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Smithereens are making up for lost time

Nick Cristiano
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

It's back into the light for the Smithereens.

The New Jersey quartet scored unlikely hits in the late '80s with its catchy, British Invasion-driven rock - offering albums such as "Especially for You" and "Green Thoughts" and songs such as "Blood and Roses" and "Only a Memory." But the group disappeared from the recording scene after 1999's "God Save the Smithereens."

"There was a dark period where there was really no interest in anyone signing the band or licensing any product from us," front man Pat DiNizio says over the phone from New Hampshire during a solo house-concert tour. "We just had to get out there and fight for our survival and do as many shows as we could to keep the name of the band alive."

Since 2007, however, the Smithereens have been making up for lost time. Back with the Koch label, which issued "God Save," the group has put out an excellent Christmas album, two well-received sets of Beatles songs, and a smoking live set with two new originals.

A new studio album of original material will come out April 7, to be followed in May by the band's 40th-anniversary salute to the Who's "Tommy."

The exceedingly prolific DiNizio also has kept himself busy with solo projects. His 2007 album, "Pat DiNizio," was a de facto band album - "the great lost Smithereens album," he calls it - that featured three of the four members.

Next up, on Jan. 27, is "Pat DiNizio/ Buddy Holly." It marks the 50th anniversary of "the day the music died," with a collection of Holly songs performed with a string quartet arranged by Charles Calello, who worked on the hit records of the Four Seasons and many other big-name acts. (In 2006, DiNizio also made a terrific special for ESPN, "Seventh-Inning Stretch," that combined his passions for music and baseball.)

The 53-year-old DiNizio has long battled a thyroid problem that caused him to gain a lot of weight. But otherwise, he says, he feels 15 and has no intention of slowing down.

"I'm doing this like Sinatra or Ernest Tubb - I'm going out with my boots on."

As for the Smithereens, the singer-guitarist says the group feels a special allegiance to its longtime fans, who in many cases have passed on their love of the band to their children.

"Our music was never designed to be consumed by the general public," DiNizio says. "We got lucky ... and had a great 10-year run. We have a tremendous responsibility (to the fans) to keep it pure, and sound to a great extent like we did in 1986, when they first heard us. And we do very much sound like a garage band - the last of them."


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