Holding on -- to troubled loves, old ways of life and belief in yourself -- it's central to the stories John Sonntag tells. A musical traveler who brings back treasures from many American corners and whose songs often follow the tragedies and romance of the road, Sonntag's work is as much about what stays with you as what you leave behind. Listeners who have kept with him across an accomplished career know how far his music has come, but on this journey there's always room for new arrivals who will feel as if they've known him all along. The latest album Chasing Stars gives everyone a perfect and rewarding chance to catch up. It's a heartfelt letter from the many landscapes Sonntag's musical imagination roams, ranging from the Latin-tinged 'Waiting on Time' to the mournful country ballad 'Count to Ten,' the ominous swamp-funk of 'North,' the sophisticated urban rock of 'Hey Lou,' and beyond. A son of the rust belt with an ear to Nashville and professional roots in bohemian Hoboken, New Jersey, Sonntag is the distinctive voice that can tell our tales and set America to music. He's taken a great stride from his debut album One More Midnight, which already went a long way into rootsy musical possibilities and simple but elusive truths of the human soul. It's an odyssey he's always had good company on, as a top indie-folk producer and a sought-after session player on many instruments and multiple albums. Chasing Stars is the long-awaited result of these rich musical conversations in Sonntag's own words and sure, versatile voice (with several covers and collaborations that are as well-chosen as his solo compositions are well-conceived). Sonntag's sweet, supple tenor joins sublime harmonies contrasting the sketch of the old man counting down the days of his life in 'Waiting on Time'; the singer's hushed assurances of romantic rebirth counter a dobro that sounds like it's strings are getting plunked by protruding nails in an abandoned cabin in the yearning 'Count to Ten'; he gets breathless, sexy and desperate in the desolate 'North' while the tune comes apart like a breaking-down getaway car in a tale of stifled escape. 'Night After Night' is a lullaby of loss whose starkly lovely piano setting could create a new genre of country classical; and, as a songwriter who can speak for ordinary people, Sonntag's even in a position to put across an unpretentious protest song about politicians who presume to do the talking for us, in 'Hey Lou.' These just scratch the surface of a disk that runs deep. There are also up-tempo celebrations of simple pleasures aplenty, in a musical trip across peaks and valleys whose next turn is always unexpected. Soon Sonntag will be setting off on other journeys, into American towns where he makes a special connection with audiences who either know him now or will find him hard to forget. He's a keen listener you'll want to hear time and again. And though he may be chasing stars, he's at the head of the artistic pack.