The first thing that hits you about singer-songwriter Colin Peterik’s full-length debut, “Everything and Nothing,” is how lavishly it’s produced. There’s a multilayered sheen over the entire album, right from the opening bars of the first track, “Smile.” And yet the effect isn’t obtrusive or overwhelming; in fact the soundboard serves almost as a separate instrument, and it’s played with extreme subtlety. Among many examples that come to mind, there’s the closing measures of “Only Light Ahead of Us,” where the vocals and the vast instrumental edifice backing them do a traditional fade—except for the guitar, which remains up front and present, strumming the chord changes until the tune resolves. It’s a ravishing moment.
Part of the credit here goes to Grammy-winning engineer Craig Bauer, who mixed the album; but the sound world is distinctly, and consistently, Peterik’s own. Possibly it shouldn’t come as such a surprise, given that he runs his own studio—The Jam Lab in Brookfield—and that, as the son of iconic rocker Jim Peterik (co-founder of both Ides of March and Survivor), it’s a fair bet he grew up with a state-of-the-art home studio just down the hall.
The distinctiveness of the sonics serves an additional purpose, which is to provide cohesion to a set of songs that might otherwise have seemed all over the map. This being Peterik’s debut, it features songs he’s written over several years, and in a fairly wide range of styles and genres—with the heaviest influences being classic-era rock, pop and R&B. The album’s first single, “Michiana,” is in fact such an uncanny evocation of a seventies soul anthem that if it weren’t for the specificity of its Midwestern dunes romance story, you might suspect it of being a Smokey Robinson cover. Peterik adds his own postmillennial flourish when, after a brief fermata, an insanely glorious four-bar finale brings the tune triumphantly home.
My favorite track on the album is “Jack and Jill,” which is immediately recognizable as a Steely Dan tribute; it opens with its own version of the Purdie shuffle the band used on “Babylon Sisters” and “Home At Last.” (We should note here that one of Peterik’s side projects is a Steely Dan tribute band, Brooklyn Charmers.) The song centers on an absolutely infectious chorus that begins, “’Cause I’ve been climbing up the hill of love / Call me Jack, and Jill was just in it for the water,” which is a couplet worthy of Donald Fagen. But the tune is far more than pastiche, which you notice at once in the opening measures; Peterik’s vocals sit in a sweetly, seductively high range that, once more, is entirely his own.
Peterik is an extraordinarily gifted composer and songwriter; he’s got a killer instinct for hooks, and knows exactly when to add an extra beat to ramp up a tune’s tension and release. And he’s a very incisive and occasionally very witty lyricist; I laughed aloud when he sang, “Fall asleep at the wheel and I’m fast asleep.” And again, at this one: “She’s a weekend warrior, but someday she just might go full-time.” And this one: “Pheromones, pheromones, mix with the Perignon, Perignon.”
And then there’s this delectable passage:
Missed her birthday on Earth Day, oh man you should have seen her
Smashed the cake, crashed the wakeboard into the marina
And myself unaware of the mess that I’ve made
Only heartbreaks and heart attacks put you in place
The album’s centerpiece is a suite comprising three separate but thematically linked tunes: the title song, “Everything and Nothing,” “Kill ’Em with Kindness” and “Only Light Ahead of Us.” Beatlesesque in its audacity, it’s a multi-part musing not only on the nature of reality, but on how to maneuver through it. Parts of it achieve a gorgeous transcendence; and if all of it doesn’t work equally well, it’s still eminently listenable, and at times quite moving.
I’m no less fond of the other tunes on the album, such as the big arena number, “My Secrets,” the country-tinged “Lessons I’ve Learned” and the low-down, disco-inflected “Cocaine Nights.” The album as a whole is tremendously likable, and insanely listenable. As noted, it caroms between genres with abandon; but in addition to the super-tight production keeping it cohesive, there’s also Peterik’s gifts for both melody and confession. Listening to it is like reading a biography; it’s Colin Peterik giving back some of what made him. Looking forward to much more of that, in an ideally long and fruitful career.
In the meantime, Peterik plays the Arcada Theatre (105 Main Street in St. Charles) on August 21 at 5pm; Richie Kotzen heads the bill. Peterik’s set obviously won’t have the benefit of the album’s studio wizardry; but the songs are more than strong enough to carry a live session. See you there.
Robert Rodi is an author, spoken-word performer and musician who has served as Newcity’s Music Editor since 2014. He’s written more than a dozen books, including the travel memoir “Seven Seasons In Siena,” and his literary and music criticism has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, Salon, The Huffington Post and many other national and regional publications.