Bruce Sudano - With Angels on a Carousel

Bruce Sudano
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Few individuals are better acquainted with the corridors of the heart than singer-songwriters. Lyricists chip away at the walls that conceal both joy and pain. Within those complex arteries, a musician somehow finds notes to communicate what words cannot. Bruce Sudano is a master of fusing lyrics and melodies together, rendering the heart's own unique language. Lovers of soul music certainly know his work. He's one of the forces behind Michael Jackson and Jermaine Jackson's 1984 duet, "Tell Me I'm Not Dreamin.'" The same goes for a few cuts on Donna Summer's Bad Girls (1979) album, including the number one title track. Everything from country ("Starting Over Again" by Dolly Parton) to classic rock ("Ball of Fire" by Tommy James & the Shondells) bears his stamp, and artists as diverse as Robert Palmer, Reba McEntire, and Snoop Dogg have recorded or sampled songs he's written over the years.

Few individuals are better acquainted with the corridors of the heart than singer-songwriters. Lyricists chip away at the walls that conceal both joy and pain. Within those complex arteries, a musician somehow finds notes to communicate what words cannot. Bruce Sudano is a master of fusing lyrics and melodies together, rendering the heart's own unique language. Lovers of soul music certainly know his work. He's one of the forces behind Michael Jackson and Jermaine Jackson's 1984 duet, "Tell Me I'm Not Dreamin.'" The same goes for a few cuts on Donna Summer's Bad Girls (1979) album, including the number one title track. Everything from country ("Starting Over Again" by Dolly Parton) to classic rock ("Ball of Fire" by Tommy James & the Shondells) bears his stamp, and artists as diverse as Robert Palmer, Reba McEntire, and Snoop Dogg have recorded or sampled songs he's written over the years. "Music, Harmony & Rhythm" isn't just a hit Sudano co-wrote and recorded as a member of Brooklyn Dreams but a guiding principle of his life.

However, Bruce Sudano's solo career has often existed on the periphery of his higher profile songwriting efforts. With Angels on a Carousel, his fourth solo album since 1981, not only stands among the very best work he's done for other artists, it also satisfies a wide range of musical tastes. In his soulful, expressive baritone, Sudano explores themes of hope, loss, love, and survival through jazz, blues, and rock textures. Producer Randy Ray Mitchell helps Sudano shape each of the songs, which work together as a whole yet still occupy their own space. What emerges is an artistic triumph: With Angels on a Carousel  reveals a musician in full command of his many gifts.

The laid back swing of "The Will to Believe" almost belies the profundity of the lyrics. Rather than capitulate to despair, he implores us to "forget thoughts of lost expectation" and rely on faith and strength to move forward. "At the Dawn of Hallelujah Day" continues the conversation of the opening track but pairs it with a rousing backdrop. Scarcely has Sudano sounded more invigorated. His exuberant, spontaneous exclamations ("hey!") perfectly capture the spirit of the song. Opposites and juxtapositions shade the lyrics to "What It's All About." Through every season, between the yin and yang, Sudano reminds us to "live every moment, love all you can." He cooks a groove that simmers but never overheats. His background vocals add some appealing subtleties that underline certain lyrics or unveil another focal point for the listener.

The title track is the first of several compositions that find Sudano turning inward, honestly claiming his own feelings. Strumming his guitar, he contends with how "the melancholy man in me, dreams of things that still could be." The image of a carousel posits the idea that, despite doubts and unknowns, life is constantly in motion ("round and round") and marked by many "ups and downs." Interestingly, he concludes the song on a chord that seems suspended in mid-air, like an unanswered question.

Sudano sifts the concept of change through a coarse filter on "Things Are Changing." There's a hint of discord in the music and Sudano once again turns words and notes into mirror images of each other. "Nothing ever stays the same," he sings. The way he punctuates the phrase further accentuates the sentiment of the lyric -- things do change, often when we least expect it. Musically, it's refreshing to hear Sudano venture towards a scrappier style of rock. A strong melody is still the main thread even if the ends are slightly frayed.

The album's second half begins with "In a Stormy Season." It's a haunting piece of music, conjuring the kind of stillness that greets thunder and lightning. The lyrics chill to the bone, just like the "hard rain" in the lyrics. Sudano pushes through the darkness for the bluesy, somewhat playful "Sun's Coming Up." He puts pain and disillusion in perspective by remembering that there's always light at the end of a long night, in both literal and figurative senses. Once again, Sudano takes an unflinching look at life in "Neighborhood of My Dreams" wherein he reconciles faith and life experience. Were it not for Sebastian Arocha Morton's strings, it would seem that Sudano simply sat down with his guitar and rolled the tape. No other instrumentation is needed to communicate the rawness of emotion.

Sudano closes the album with "All Those Years Ago" and "Beautiful History." Both songs are valentines to his wife of 30-plus years, Donna Summer, who passed away in 2012. "All Those Years Ago" traces the evolution of their relationship: from their initial meeting in the late-'70s through raising a family while living in and out of the spotlight. A musical lightness cushions the bittersweet storyline. "Beautiful History" is more contemplative but no less powerful in tone. However personal the lyrics, the song speaks to universalities about how the love two people share and the life they build together lives beyond the boundaries of time and space. "Seasons of endlessness," indeed.

If there's one unifying element between the album's ten songs, it's passion. Sudano channels it into his singing and playing. He holds a magnifying glass up to his own life and what he sees around him. He doesn't sugarcoat what he finds. By that measure, With Angels on a Carousel is a rousing, tuneful testament to speaking one's truth.

by Christian John Wikane

 
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