The album is the second for Sonntag, a Pennsylvania native who lived in Hoboken for over a decade. Next week, he brings his guitar and his melodic music back to town for a performance at The Goldhawk on Wednesday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m.
On "Chasing Stars," Sonntag plays around with melancholic melodies, Latin rhythms and soulful grooves. The result is a quality, folk-pop sound that follows in the tradition of other great artists such as Paul Simon. And much like Simon and his ilk, Sonntag incorporates different American musical traditions into his music.
Listeners feel a number of different influences, ranging from Caribbean to country. The result is a skillful blend of rhythm and groove, woven together with folk-y melodies. That blend is a reflection of Sonntag's musical style.
"It's not quite pure anything," he said in a recent interview.
Sonntag's ability to weave between styles is probably best evidenced on the album's first track, "Waitin' on Time." It starts with a traditional Afro-Caribbean conga beat and then smoothly transitions into the catchy guitar riff that resonates through the song.
"'Waiting on Time' was a guitar lick," he said. "I needed something to move."
He called friends, he said, who played Latin beats to help finish out the song, and to soften the mood. "I put it in the first track to set the tone [of the album]," he explained.
In "Waitin' on Time" Sonntag's smooth, sweet voice narrates a tale about holding on to hope as time passes by. Instead of bringing you down, the song's driving beat keeps listeners hoping for the best in the track, in Sonntag's stories, and in life.
That positive outlook is a core sentiment in Sonntag's music. "I'm probably one of the biggest dreamers you've ever met," said the singer-songwriter, who has made the journey from being a high school garage musician to a New York and New Jersey major act.
Sonntag first took up music when he was in high school, in Newcastle, Western Pennsylvania. He later studied at Boston's acclaimed Berklee College of Music, but didn't graduate.
Instead he made the move to Texas, to play with some high school friends who had moved out there. Sonntag's journey through life shaped who he was as a person and as a musician, he said. That is why the road is a reoccurring theme for him, and can be seen anywhere from the album cover to "Chasing Stars" to the lyrics of many of his songs.
Though he first started playing in public as a teenager, Sonntag said he did not have a defining moment that led him to take up his musical journey.
"It's hard to say what got me started," he mused, though he added that he is certain, "the desire was there." "I'm not sure what had more influence," he continued. "Was it when I saw the Beatles on TV?"
Having an older brother and sister interested in music definitely helped. He said his sister Mary-Jo introduced him to the great R&B acts, and he recalls his brother, Tom, playing him some of the work of pop trail-blazer David Bowie. Sonntag's mother also played a role in his early musical education.
"My mom turned me on to big band," he said. "I listened to swing and horns. It blew the top of my head off."
But perhaps the most important moment was when he first heard Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.
"I wanted to play guitars that make a great sound like that," recalled Sonntag.
And some may say that he's accomplished that wish. Sonntag's folk-pop songs and lyrics are sometimes reminiscent of that original 60s and 70s sound, though it is clear that he has definitely defined a unique and successful sound of his own.
"I miss that static you get when you're in Hoboken and Manhattan. I miss the energy," said Sonntag, who moved to Lambertville with his wife, Lucille around four years ago.
But he has returned on several occasions. In fact, next week will not be Sonntag's first time playing the Goldhawk. He had his first CD release party there, and played in the space under its former incarnation, the Liquid Lounge.
"It's one of my favorite rooms," reflected Sonntag, who has also played Maxwell's, and Live Tonight (the Old Whiskey Bar).
He first landed in Hoboken in 1990, and soon became entrenched in the music scene with other local artists such as Gene D. Plummer and Kate Jacobs. He was so into the scene that he used to be the emcee for the Arts & Music Festival.
In Hoboken he also met Don Brody, whose "Four blocks over" is included on "Chasing Stars."
The song, which is about constantly running into an old flame, captures the beauty and the frustration of living in the mile square city.
"Sometimes I wanted you to disappear... but you're four blocks over and four blocks down. Sometimes this is a pretty small town."
John Sonntag will play at The Goldhawk on Wednesday, July 11. To listen to some of the tracks off his new album, "Chasing Stars," visit www.johnsonntag.com. Comments on this piece can be sent to email@example.com