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CD REVIEW: John Sonntag - Chasing Stars
By Chip Withrow - 11/20/2006 - 03:36 PM EST

Artist: John Sonntag
Album: Chasing Stars
CD Review: I’ve been listening to John Sonntag’s Chasing the Stars for a couple of weeks now, and this disc has sure grown on me. It took me a few listens, each time finding another nifty instrumental touch or lyrical twist.

A couple of songs (the opener “Waiting on Time” and the title cut) remind me of Paul Simon because they are clever and catchy, like the tunes on Graceland, and more rhythmic than most folk offerings. I really dig the mandolin riff the chorus of “Waiting” is built upon.

“One Whole Day” and “Count to Ten” are both pretty, sort of wistful and maybe even a bit spooky (check out the harmonica and reverb-heavy guitar in “Day”).

Sonntag is a multi-instrumentalist, and he has assembled a nice band for this CD. The musicianship (don’t know whether it’s him or his mates playing) is understated, but a second listen reveals how right on it is.

“Hey Lou” is a great song – Sonntag’s voice (darn close to Joni Mitchell-sounding) works well here, the rhythm section is strong and almost funky, and the guitar is stinging. I also like the questioning lyrics, centered around the theme “Hey Lou, how do I get through these days?”

“North” is swamp-eerie, and it’s one of several songs anchored by hypnotic congas. “North” also boasts some deft guitar work.

“Full Moon In Her Eyes” and “Four Blocks Over” are upbeat and hooky. If I heard these songs on the radio as I was driving (and I wish I did, but Southwest Florida radio is in a dismal state), I’d blast ‘em and sing along, particularly “Four Blocks.”

“Black Suit” is perhaps my favorite. Sonntag’s friend Lou pops up again, although this time Lou’s dying (I think) and he’s telling the narrator to buy a suit. The vocal interplay in the chorus reminds me of some of Steely Dan’s best songs.

The closer, “I’m On the East Side,” is ethereal, with a haunting vocal that sticks with me. But the preceding “Night After Night,” with its piano/guitar/voice arrangement, is like a lullaby and seems more appropriate as a finale.

I found Sonntag’s almost-falsetto singing a bit jarring at first, but like the voices of many singer-songwriters, it works in these songs. Chasing Stars is crisp and clean, like a late fall afternoon. It’s well worth a listen if you want to hear something different in the folk realm.

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