(4 / 5)
Who this guy wrote songs with, had hits with and who he was married to for many years should NOT be the angle here. It might well be a great PR peg, but as a credible music writer and journalist for 39 years, I go for the music first and foremost.
Is it good? Is it different? Is it relevant? Does it deserve space and coverage? Will others be interested in hearing it, based on its own merits and not who the artist was or is associated with?
So, in the case of Bruce Sudano, yes; he has a sparkling pedigree and cracking CV. But this is all about him and today, not others and yesterday. “21st Century World” is not an easy thing to adequately and accurately summarise in a review. You gotta hear it with no preconceived ideas that would be based on what he has done before and who with.
I try to steer clear of reading the PR bumph that accompanies CDs and digital access to music, sent to me by record labels, PRs and artists themselves, until AFTER I have given the music a listen. Yes, there will be times when I know who the band or artist is/are and what they have done, but it is especially important I have no preconceived ideas about an artist or band I have not come across before.
As is the case with Mr Sudano. The name vaguely rang bells, but I knew not why. So, I give “21st Century World” a spin without any background to the man. I like what I hear. All 10 cuts held my attention. Nine penned by Bruce and one cover. I loved the title of track six: “Bat Shit Crazy”. Just about sums up the political goings on in the USA and over here in the UK! Bruce channelling the likes of Lou Reed and Iggy Pop on this infectious cut.
He has a distinctive and passionate voice, with a quirky, laid back style. Lots of attitude and a versatile vocal delivery. It is raw and it is rootsy. That ‘mean streets of New York’ attitude. An ache and a yearning in his voice. A life lived, which you can hear in every verse. Todd Snider, Steve Earle, Tom Waits, John Hiatt, John Cougar Mellencamp and more, come to mind, while listening to Bruce’s voice and these songs. But Bruce is most definitely his own man. Playing acoustic guitar and singing lead, he has a top end team around him on the record. 17 musicians and producer Mike Montali, of the rock band Hollis Brown, at the helm.
An accusatory finger on the pulse of the planet with his song topics and uncompromising lyrics. The opener “Your World Now”, asks if the younger generation will step up to cure the world’s ills. “It Ain’t Cool”, dishes out a bollocking to a selfish society. He pleads for understanding, sacrifice and compromise on “Common Sense”. He looks at our self (ie) obsessed social media culture, religion, hypocrisy, addiction, homelessness and other ills we have failed to address, as a society.
He examines single motherhood in “When Cinderella Dies”, and the challenges they face. A standout cut. Menacing low end register of Augustin’s cello, the foundation of the track. There is also a note of hope, including the sole cover here, and the only cover he has ever recorded. Tracy Chapman’s “Talkin’ Bout A Revolution”, which is a lovely job on an iconic song. The closer “Coney Island Days” speaks about missed opportunities and unfulfilled potential, and conjures up mental images of days gone by and a childhood that left scars.
This is Bruce’s sixth solo record. His first dropped in 1980, then 2004, 2009, 2014 and 2015. A long-time resident of LA, with strong New York roots. His first child is called Brooklyn, an actress starring in the NBC series “Taken”. Bruce has a second daughter Amanda, singer in the band Johnnyswim, and a step daughter Mimi Sommer.
He was four when he started making music, on accordion, then guitar and piano. He was earning from it at 12. By the time he was 20, Bruce had co-written a hit song, “Ball Of Fire” with his mentor Tommy James, who cut the song with his band The Shondells. Sudano co-founded the band Alive N Kicking in 1968. In 1970, Tommy James wrote and produced their top Ten US hit “Tighter, Tighter”. Five years after leaving that band, Bruce co-founded Brooklyn Dreams. That same year, he met Donna Summer who began writing with the band. They penned “Take It To The Zoo”, for the “Thank God It’s Friday” film soundtrack, then the band appeared as the Planotones in the film “American Hot Wax”.
They hit number four with Summer duetting on “Heaven Knows” and in in 1979, Summer and the band wrote the number one pop and R&B hit, “Bad Girls”. The title song to the most popular album of her own career. Snoop Dogg sampled a Brooklyn Dreams track in 2008. In 1981, Sudano released his debut solo record, “The Fugitive Kind” on RCA, which had a song on it called “Starting Over Again,” which he wrote with Summer about his parents’ divorce. Donna Summer sang it on a late-night TV show in a bid to stop the in-laws splitting up (they still did!). The next day, Dolly Parton’s people called to ask to record the song. Dolly turned it into a number one country hit, and 15 years later, Reba McEntire took it to number 19 in the US chart. Bruce co-wrote the Grammy-nominated Michael and Jermaine Jackson duet, “Tell Me I’m Not Dreaming (Too Good To Be True)”, which was also covered by Robert Palmer. In 1986, Bruce co-wrote “Closest Thing To Perfect”, the title track for the John Travolta, Jamie Lee Curtis movie “Perfect”.
In 1980, Bruce married LaDonna Adrian Gaines, aka Ms Donna Summer, and they stayed married until her death. He played keyboard and sang backing vocals on tour with her and managed her career for two decades. Sadly she passed away in 2012 from lung cancer at the age of 63.
After years spent touring as a singer and musician, as well as managing Donna Summer’s career, Bruce released another solo record, “Rainy Day Soul” in 2004, which gave him three hits, and an Artist of the Year Award. “It’s Her Wedding Day,” about his daughter Amanda’s marriage to her Johnnyswim band mate Abner Ramirez, was a track from his third solo album, 2009’s “Life And The Romantic”, and earned him a prestigious Song Of The Year Award. In 2014, after the death of his wife, Sudano released the CD “With Angels On A Carousel”. Where he crafted songs that reflected his experience through his loss and grief. In the Autumn of 2015, he released a new album, “The Burbank Sessions”.
Having inherited Donna Summer’s estimated $75 million fortune, Bruce could have hired who he wanted to for this record, (released on his own label) and thrown the kitchen sink at it. But it is often stripped right back and exposes the strength of the material and the vocal. It is all about the song here and all the better for that approach. He set out to write about what he is going through personally, with the belief that others will relate to it as well. Also trying to provoke people to think; to start a dialogue about what is going on in our culture and our society.
“There’s a song on my last album, called ‘Never Too Late To Dream’. That is exactly my philosophy. I feel very vibrant at this point in my life. Going through what I went through losing my wife to lung cancer, I always say it was the one bad thing that ever happened in my life. But I said to myself; OK, Bruce. You have this other chapter to write, so get on with it!” Well, “21st Century World” is a damn good start to that new chapter at 68-years-old, and deserves attention.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’