Dan Sonenberg – Tiny Malone – Album Review
Well now…that’s comforting. Seems like Dan Sonenberg has got his music running like clockwork at this point in his career now, and that’s a great thing! This…hmm…let’s say hyperactive-minded artist…has put out a record in each of the last three years, where before that, it was somewhere back in 2015 that we first started listening to Dan’s tunes in a band called Lovers Of Fiction. Strike while the iron’s freakin’ HOT I say! Clearly Mr. Sonenberg feels the same. He’s one of those delightfully quirky characters in our music scene that likely doesn’t get half the credit he truly deserves for how much he truly contributes to it. He reminds me a lot of David Stephenson in that regard…dudes that are essentially constantly makin’ music around the clock, ready to get inventive or outright weird with it, and unafraid to say whatever it is that they decide they wanna say…which admittedly, can completely vary from record to record, track to track. We need zany artists like Dan and David out there though…make no mistake…it’s folks just like these guys that tend to inspire others…even if they tend to toil in a somewhat anonymous state in relation to the ol’ mainstream, in behind the scenes, they’re essential to the evolution of art as a whole.
Startin’ out with a fairly mellow and accessible melody, “Supersonic Jet” is a decent beginning to Tiny Malone…quaint, inviting…still somewhat complex, given that’s what Dan does and who Dan is…but yeah – I can see most people out there hanging with this track for the most part. Dude makes some strange choices sometimes…but that’s largely perception, and probably only my own. I’ll put it to ya this way – we’re not all gonna be quick enough to follow along with Sonenberg’s thought process, that’s just the facts Jack. I do my best, and I know I’m still miles behind Dan and his “Supersonic Jet” – so it really does make me wonder how other folks fare. Considering this opening tune is somewhat straightforward to a degree…I guess that’s what makes me wonder…I’m always searching for the hidden meanings in Dan’s tunes, which you’ll see come into play later on in a few of these other tunes. But like…is there something else going on in a line like “123 fly your supersonic jet to the other side of love?” I think my worry is that there actually isn’t this time around…in which case…I mean…it’s a bizarre line Dan. I’m no different than anyone else…I’m not opposed to a love song…but yeah…this seems like…a stretch? I don’t know that I’d go as far as to say “Supersonic Jet” is any kind of bad tune, so much as it’s a hard cut to figure out if everything is as simple as it seems, or if Dan’s trying to say more than what we hear him singing about…which is usually the case. Y’all gotta understand…this dude ain’t just smart – he’s bloody BRILLIANT when it comes right down to it…so like…“123 fly your supersonic jet to the other side of love?” What am I missing here Dan? The consequence of having material so thought provoking time after time, is obviously that it can make a casualty of the simpler tunes…and that might be the case here. It sounds good enough…I’m not 100% sure it’s Sonenberg at his most revelatory or exciting, but it’s a decent start.
Not everything we write needs to be overly complex or thought provoking of course, but it has kind of become a real staple of Dan’s music…so when I don’t find that aspect being prevalent, I just have to assume it’s something that I’m missing on my end. In any event – a track like “Summer Of Soul” will give ya a much more solid glimpse of the kind of writing Sonenberg is capable of, and what I personally love about his music. The social commentary here, is staggering…and nothing short of necessary. “Summer Of Soul” is a comment on how Black history tends to get lost in the mix, whitewashed, or at the very least, not acknowledged for the phenomenal contributions it has made throughout time as much as it certainly should be. Dan’s righting a few wrongs here by directly making time to point out the greatness that Black history has provided our speakers through music, and mentioning many names that have played pivotal roles in its evolution from Gladys Night to Sly and the Family Stone, all the way up to a clever name-drop of Questlove in the mix as well. It’s got the Funk, it’s got the Soul, it’s got the juice – and as Dan tends to do, he practically phrases the main points of his song in such a way that it’s intentionally controversial & designed to provoke conversation. “We hold these truths to be self-evident – Black history will be erased” – if you were just passing this song blaring out of a window on the city street as you walked by, you’d be inclined to strut to the music until you got to that line and wondered what the heck it was that Sonenberg was talking about if you hadn’t paid attention to the full context, know what I mean? Anyone listening intently would clearly understand he’s not advocating for Black history to be erased – it’s the opposite – he’s highlighting the significant way it’s enriched all of our lives through the incredible music made, outlined here within the smooth sounds of the “Summer Of Soul.”
“It Wasn’t Me (I Say)” plays like a tripped-out internal conversation of sorts…like a brain trying to rationalize the information its absorbing in real time. Musically, I dig it…it’s a bit more bare-bones than you find a lot of Sonenberg’s tunes to be, but kind of has that early R.E.M. sound in the guitar tones as it starts out, which I always enjoy. As it twists into the chorus hooks, Dan takes on a more aggressive tone to his vocals, and uses a more direct approach through the center – you’ll find that the verses have the vocals bouncing from the lefts to the rights, mimicking how thoughts tend to float around in the ether of our minds. At least, that’s the theory I’m goin’ with…like I told ya earlier, all I can do is attempt to keep up with a mind like Sonenberg’s got…to say that I actually CAN, would pretty much be an outright lie. I think it’s a reality he’s had to face many times when it comes to the music he’s making and how much the people out there truly ‘get it’ – know what I mean? Some folks are ahead of their time, some folks write miles over our heads…Dan’s a bit of both of these things, and I figure we’re lucky enough to make a connection with him whenever we can. The main riff of the chorus works brilliantly…and I like the synth sounds you’ll hear in the music providing the rubbery atmosphere you’ll find. It’s tough to say whether or not the opening three tracks of Tiny Malone has the level of accessibility the masses will need in order to hang on for what’s to come or get them enticed into this record as quickly as perhaps he’s hoping for – but for those out there that enjoy your art & music combined, Sonenberg has always got something for ya. “It Wasn’t Me (I Say)” is one of those tunes where I ultimately kind of applaud the guy for following through with it…it’s clearly a tougher sell to the people out there, and in the majority of cases like these, art gets abandoned in favor of accessibility – but that doesn’t happen in Dan’s world. This dude will follow his ideas straight down the rabbit-hole to wherever they lead him, and I salute that.
I liked the addition of the trumpets from Alan Kaschub & the saxophones from Hans Indigo Spencer on “Take Care Of Me” – it seemed to raise the spark of personality in the music all-around in this tune, and brighten up the record in the right way. It’s probably a degree or two more accessible for the masses as well as a result…which I don’t think can really hurt at this point…listeners tend to dig that. The main hooks of “Take Care Of Me” stand a great chance of gettin’ stuck in your head for weeks afterwards, and there’s always value in that. While I still feel like at this point in the record, Dan’s somewhat searching for a definitive win where we’re not feeling like this works & that doesn’t as much…something inarguable, concrete, and bulletproof…you can feel him inching his way closer with “Take Care Of Me.” All-in-all, with the brass working their magic, this track does at least sound like the good time it IS, and it uses Dan’s previous orchestral expertise to the record’s advantage. For those that don’t realize it yet – the vast majority of what you’ll hear on each and every one of these tunes outside of the few featured guest-stars, is entirely ALL Sonenberg…the dude’s a one-man music machine in human form and he deserves a ton of credit for the crazy timings & ways that the layers of his music interact…the dynamics y’all – Dan’s got the talent to create some extremely ambitious tunes, and even when the accessibility factor comes out a bit more like it does on “Take Care Of Me,” you can still hear the complexity as well. Essentially, it wouldn’t be easy for a group of musicians to play his music, let alone just one guy. Smart to enlist some support when it makes sense to do so…Alan & Hans give him a strong assist on this tune.
That being said, we come to the REAL star of the show – Gary The Dog! An essential part of “Gary’s Song” as the lead barker and the subject being written about…this would be what I’d consider to be the other-half of Sonenberg’s catalog. Sometimes the dude goes for undeniably serious intellectual stuff – and then sometimes, he lets loose, has a bit more fun with it all, and creates genuine FUN with an intellectual approach – make sense? Like, if you’re reading the words or listening to the lyrics, and you realize that they’re all in reference to Dan’s four-legged friend here…you can’t help but admire the cleverness. The hook of “someone is yankin’ my chain” is awesome…in my opinion, of any track within the first half of this record’s set-list, that’s the moment right there that’ll resonate with everyone listening. Great use of melody…and in Dan’s unabashedly Bowie-esque style…which reaches even more of a peak when he goes for the “and maybe my blues will subside” line later on – in addition to that, you get the brilliance of the backing vocals, the attitude & swagger found in every line of every verse…and the seamless way that this whole song threads itself together, even with so much technically involved. So yes…I lied to you…Gary The Dog is GREAT, yes – but it’s Dan that is the real star of the show here, and I don’t think anyone could claim otherwise. He’s got such an extraordinary gift for melody, that I’ll fully admit – sometimes I’d wish he’d use that to his advantage a little bit more like he does on “Gary’s Song.”
What do they call that stuff…a dichotomy? Is that what “Give An Inch” is all about? I’m thinking so. Dan’s highlighting the differences between the sexes and the way we tend to think, observe, and feel – and he makes a solid argument for the lost art of compromise in this track. It’s hard not to notice that the world has moved on from giving anything a well-deserved inch these days…and ultimately, Dan makes the case for how that’s still a damn great idea within the context of what he’s communicating on this cut. “I think somebody’s got to give an inch” is GOOD THINKIN’ if you ask me…and he ain’t wrong. If we were all so inclined to give a few more inches in this lifetime, I believe we’d all be that much further in our evolution. I cite the current state of things to back me up on that. No one out there is willing to give even a millimeter, never mind an entire whole inch these days – and as a result, the human race is practically spinning its wheels into complete oblivion and a full-on stand-still that threatens to actually take us BACKWARDS…so heck ya Dan, I’m all about giving that inch – that’s the only pathway forward for us all, ain’t it? “Give An Inch” also has a killer bridge to it, right up to & including the laughter. The man makes great points in this tune, and he’s done it all in an exceptionally entertaining way throughout this whole track…ain’t no doubt it’s nowhere near typical, but for what it’s worth, there’s a whole lot of accessibility and charm within the main hooks of this song to be found. All that stuff helps when it comes right down to it…even moving the meter just slightly in that direction gives Dan’s weird & wild wisdom that much more of a chance to be heard, and hopefully, to sink in. The next thing you know, we’re all out there givin’ an inch here & there, and the whole planet is FIXED! Okay…maybe it’s not quite that easy…maybe I’m a little bit too optimistic on the timeline of it all & such – but you get the point I’m sure…the inviting sound of a song like “Give An Inch” gives the words a chance to be absorbed, and if they can be, that gives US the chance of bettering this floating rock we’re all livin’ on. Bonus points for the reappearance of Satchel Sonenberg on the backing vocals, and the lead guitar from Matthew Schickele…in tandem with the clever synths on this tune, this is a really strong cut.
Alright…so…I’m gonna let you in on a little secret. I WAS lying to you earlier when I said that I lied to you, and that Gary The Dog wasn’t the star of the show…I actually think that he IS, just not for the reasons you think. To me, “Gary’s Song” is the pivotal point where this record really found itself – and so if Gary The Dog is responsible for that, he’s all aces in my books. Everything from that point forward seems to find that sweet-spot between art & accessibility that has Sonenberg right in the pocket of where he’s thriving the best. “It Doesn’t Matter To Me” is a great example – the vocals are spectacular, the personality is EVERYWHERE you turn your face to listen, and the musicianship is as off-the-charts awesome as it has ever been. It’s got that like…Stevie Wonder-esque bounce to it…there’s real LIFE in the veins of “It Doesn’t Matter To Me” – and an inspired spark in its energy that’s bound to catch all of our attention collectively. From what I can gather…”It Doesn’t Matter To Me” is really all about being whomever the heck ya are…and the somewhat nihilistic view that it don’t really make a lick of difference anyhow – so let that freak flag fly! And I tend to agree, if that’s indeed the case…I mean…I practically believe in Simulation Theory at this point to begin with…so everything’s pretty much amusing to me on this planet, and equally pointless – in essence, “It Doesn’t Matter To Me” – and I don’t think much ever really will ever again. If I’ve learned anything in this life, it’s that people are just gonna do what they damn well please anyhow…and that if everything DID matter to us, good lord…we’d never be functional at all. The less things actually matter, the less we’re affected by them, the more we have the opportunity to just have a little fun in this one life we’ve got to live…and it’s hard to say that I’m not all for that. I don’t know that I can ever REALLY accomplish that personally, but I definitely dig the idea. I’d love to claim that “It Doesn’t Matter To Me” – but the reality is, it DOES…and I suspect that this is the case for our friend Dan as well given the many other socially relevant & insightfully observant tracks he’s written in his time. But don’t go stomping our butterflies y’all…sometimes it’s nice to dream, ain’t it? I’d love to reach a point where “It Doesn’t Matter To Me” – that’s the kind of ignorance is bliss I can fully get behind, and actually sounds like it’d be the way to handle daily life on this planet. As far as I can tell, there’s a great many people out there already living this way…why I’m so late to join’em, I’ll never know. Anyhow – you betcha – I love this track…”It Doesn’t Matter To Me” is the anthem for the soundtrack of the life that I WANT to lead, where you do you & I do me, and we all get along, cause what else is there?
Because if everything DOES matter, then a song like “I Suck” should make you cry, instead of laugh like it was intended to. THIS is a stellar example of the undeniable genius that is Dan Sonenberg…at his most self-deprecating. If you are a musician, or an artist of any kind…but especially a musician…you’ll relate to this song a whole hell of a lot more than you’ll likely want to admit. I could quote this entire song word for word if I’m being real with ya – it’s that well written, that poignant, that honest & that direct. To the point where if you’ve ever put your heart & soul into recording something before, you’ll just want to curl up in a ball in the corner until you shrivel away into oblivion. I might not be a musician all that much anymore – but I can still sympathize and relate, because I deal with people that have these kind of thoughts on “I Suck” every single day – AND…the theory transfers directly into all kinds of art, even mine as a writer. Watch this…I’ll prove it to you – the gnarly refrigerator ate a human and pooped out an animal before digesting some literature on the art of science. You see? That has NOTHING TO DO WITH ANYTHING…it’s not important to this review, it’s not relevant information, it’s not insightful, it doesn’t make any sense…and because NO ONE OUT THERE is reading, I can get away with it. It’s the same reason that Dan can claim he sucks when that’s nowhere near the case – no one’s gonna call him on it – no one’s gonna pick up the phone, call him, and tell him that’s not the case at this very moment. I can YELL and SCREAM and TYPE IT IN ALL-CAPS that he DOESN’T SUCK…but at the end of the day, the same amount of people (actually, probably less) are reading what I write as there are listening to his music. The only way to console ourselves is to recognize and realize that none of this is important (See: It Doesn’t Matter To Me) and it doesn’t define who we are, or why we do what we do. If we were to take any of it seriously, everything that Dan points out on “I Suck” would have us all retiring instantly forever. I’d LOVE to say that this track is filled with misinformation…but as far as I can tell, it’s the straight-ahead TRUTH & as FACTUAL as it gets…thankfully, he’s made it fun…so that I’m not crying my eyes out instead. It’s amazing how much effort has been put into a song like this…that in itself is beautiful irony incarnate. Embrace the suck y’all…there’s freedom in it…and when it goes like this, it can be irresistibly catchy AF. “Gave a couple of grand to the mastering man – you can hear the difference, I swear you can, it’s insane.” Knowing that Dan’s got this song sounding spot on perfect, having recorded it from his own basement, makes this moment that much sweeter. Most people suck a whole lot more than he ever will – Sonenberg’s an underrated genius to the nth degree, and it’s tracks like this that truly prove it, 100%.
“Killer ‘72” is bit tougher to examine…I’m not opposed to it…I don’t think it really makes the lineup dip too much…but I’ll concede that it puts somewhat of a halt on the savage hot streak Dan was kickin’ ass with in the mid-section of this record too. There are elements of “Killer ‘72” that work brilliantly, and a few spots that don’t quite measure up completely to the ambitious nature of the writing and design of this tune…I suppose that’s what we’d have to conclude…it’s the balance that’s missing a bit this time around. I like the narrative that flows through the storyline of this tune…I’m not completely sure if it’s supposed to be Dan reflecting on a past relationship with someone he really admired, or if it’s more of a conversation between the new him & the old him to an extent…but either way, it works. Mix-wise, I felt like this track loses a step heading into the hooks of the chorus – and as a result, it kind of has the opposite effect – it becomes the verses that supply the majority of what we end up attached to here. Or maybe that’s just me…I never profess to speak for everyone, I can only tell ya what I’m hearing. Overall, I felt like “Killer ‘72” had the most potential to grow by comparison to the rest. That could be because it’s a newer track in the lineup, it could be in the indication of a song that never quite came out right, it could be as simple as ambition getting the best of Dan this time around…in any event, it seemed like “Killer ‘72” still needed a minute or two longer in the incubator. Bonus points for the intense Beatles-esque melody that comes through at the most intense parts of Dan’s vocals…I dig that, and I do dig on the ideas here as well – I think it’s a track that’s just demanded a bit more attention to the finest details, and that usually, Dan’s got all that locked down tight. He’s tried something unique here with the way that the chorus departs into a different vibe…sometimes we try things and it works, sometimes it don’t. We grow, we learn, we evolve – and sometimes, we get back in there, retool & remix – it ain’t no thang.
As a Canadian that absorbs US politics just about as much or more than the music he listens to each and every single day…it’d be hard for me to argue that the final track, “Sick And Evil” isn’t the real bell of the ball here on Tiny Malone – this track’s not just good, not just great, not just insightful – but IMPORTANT – and I truly hope people will hear it. Ultimately, it’s asking incredible crucial questions about what we will or won’t do to save this experiment we call democracy…and how many “millions of people don’t care anymore ‘bout what’s real or what’s fantasy.” Think of the effect these past six years have had on me alone – I already told ya I’m on board with Simulation Theory…and the reasoning behind that, pretty much, is that I just can’t handle what is ACTUALLY real, which is “the final days of a once great nation.” So…it’s not that I don’t care – I do, completely…it’s just that I’m recognizing how powerless I am to stop the powerful…and it’s frightening to think about. I like to think that, were the threat to get any closer, I’d be willing to “lay down my life to protect an idea” – because…well…because SOMEONE has to, right? If we all put our heads in the sand and try to ignore it all by believing we’re just part of some computer program or The Matrix, we’ll be consumed by the rich & the gluttony of politics before we even realize it. “And some thousand times a day I ask myself what’s really going on? Who am I counting on? And what’s the last remaining play we have before we cross the rubicon, when all we have is gone?” Again – this is the pure unfiltered brilliance of a mind like Sonenberg’s at work…he’s frighteningly accurate in describing what’s taking place inside of people that still have a functioning brain in their head…but the madness is spreading like a social disease, and our numbers are dwindling as a result. Mainly because we’re so exhausted, and tired, that it seems like giving in is our last & only option…but we’re not yet dead, and the heartbeat of the will of the people has not reached a total flat-line either – we still have time. A lot depends on these next two years ahead…and we’ll have to decide whether it’s about coming to “see the circus,” or finally stopping it in its tracks. I could listen to “Sick And Evil” all damn day, every day…it’s the reminder we need that we all play a role in what’s happening…and that when the moment calls for us to stand up, it’s imperative we hear it, and more importantly, act upon it. It’s hard not to feel crazy in a world that’s growing increasingly maddening and unaccountable for its intentional deceit – but it’s our duty and responsibility to be the watchers on the wall, ready for things to get even worse than they are already. Bonus points to Dan for calling out one of the all-time stupidest of fucks, “Gym” Jordan – that dude deserves a swift kick in both nads, daily. All-in-all, “Sick And Evil” is one of the most frank, direct, and frighteningly REAL songs about “what’s really going on” that you’re ever going to hear – so damn accurate, that once all the books have been banned, they’ll come for songs like this one next. So “hell yes” Dan – I appreciate a great political tune like this one…and I salute you for having the courage to record it at such a polarizing time where even putting something like this final cut out can get a person hated on for their ART & music…their honesty…their perspective…their right to express & say what we need to hear, regardless of who’s listening, or how badly we all truly need to hear its message.
Find out more about Dan Sonenberg from his official website at: https://danielsonenberg.com
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