Click to hear: “Turn Me Over“
Dan Sonenberg occupies a unique position in the local music scene, straddling the spheres of classical and popular music. His opera about Negro League baseball great Josh Gibson, The Summer King, premiered earlier this year at Merrill Auditorium. Last year, his rock band, Lovers of Fiction, released an excellent, albeit short (three-song) EP, titled The Bear. There’s a Lovers of Fiction full-length in the works, but in the interim we have a solo album from the pop side of Sonenberg’s brain.
Peaks Island Ferry is a concept album about an all-too-familiar phenomenon: the bitter break-up. Musically, Peaks is a treat. It opens with “Turn Me Over,” a Lennon-esque power ballad refined by some lovely operatic flourishes. John’s an explicit reference point in the next track, “Yoko Song,” the most “rock” number on an album where acoustic guitar and piano predominate. (With the exception of strings on one track, Sonenberg plays all the instruments, and does do deftly.)
There are shades of John’s drinking buddy, Harry Nilsson, elsewhere on Peaks, especially “Everybody’s Going to Sleep” and “Happy Birthday.” Sonenberg doesn’t have Nilsson’s vocal range (what mortal does?), but that doesn’t stop him from attempting to hit the high notes, and when his voice cracks from the effort it only echoes what the lyrics are telling us: we’re listening to a broken man. “Happy birthday to the woman I’ve wronged / I’ve made such a mess of it all,” Sonenberg croons on the latter. “Brokenhearted pretty much all the time / And feeling suburban / These bottles of bourbon don’t lie.”
Peaks includes an alternate version of “Everyone at Target Drives a Honda,” a punchy rocker from The Bear, here stripped down to piano and voice and simply titled “Target.” It’s still the best evocation I’ve heard of that tortuous experience one has when your ex- still lives in town and you go about your days half-hoping, half-dreading your next encounter.
Sonenberg lays it on a bit thick at the album’s end. The title track neatly sums up the story and provides a sense of resigned acceptance, making the next and final song, “Resolution Time,” superfluous, if not downright indulgent, with its corny “Auld Lang Syne” quotes. A lot of listeners will find the whole album too melodramatic, but it depends which end of the ferry ride you’re on. If you’re stranded on your own emotional island with the cold season blowing in, Peaks may very well be exactly what you need.
— Chris Busby