Dan Sonenberg is no newcomer to music. He is a composer of the opera “The Summer King,” is the front man and principal songwriter for the band Lovers of Fiction and is also a professor of composition and music theory at the University of Southern Maine. Sonenberg released his own solo album entitled Peaks Island Ferry. He wears his influences on his sleeves and the most obvious are Billy Joel, David Bowie and Elton John.
Sonenberg’s biggest strength is songwriting. Whether it’s a sparse piano song or a layered pop song it is well written. In fact Sonenberg has a number of other strengths, which include his technical and creative ability, an ear for aesthetics and versatility. One area that I thought needed some tweaking was his vocals. Sonenberg is a decent vocalist but he often exaggerates nuances within his natural voice from song to song and sometimes line for line which seems a bit self indulgent. Sometimes he sounds like Elton John, sometimes like an alternative version of Bowie and sorta like someone delivering lines in a play. The other slight issue is his delivery on certain words. He sometimes misses the mark. For example on “Everybody's Going to Sleep” he sings the line “ We’ll greet with a song and a smile” and when comes to the word “smile” it is not exactly flattering.
The good news is that other than these vocal discrepancies the album as a whole is quite enjoyable. Some songs are better than others so let’s dig into the details.
The album starts off with “Turn Me Over,” which is basically split down the middle between Elton John and David Bowie. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable song even though I was hoping for some elements that didn’t feel so derived from his influences. “Every Message is Erased” is a good song all around. It has a “Piano Man” essence to it but is also one of the most inspired vocal performances.
Another highlight is the sparse “Target,” which contains frivolous lyrics that are some of his best amongst the album. To Sonenberg’s credit his vocal delivery works here and despite the rather silly lyrics created an engaging dichotomy. As the album progresses there are a number of highlights, which include “Happy Birthday” and closer “Resolution Time.”
Sonenberg delivers some quality material on Peaks Island Ferry. It doesn't all work but it is pretty easy to look past. The next time you are at a piano bar without a piano man just pop this in.
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