A look at some select artists and bands that operate below the radar, but likely won’t be there for long:
Bruce Sudano | Spirals, Vol. 1: Not a Straight Line To Be Found | (Purple Heart Recording Co.)
Some folks might know Bruce Sudano as a result of the many hit songs he wrote for Michael Jackson, Dolly Parton and his late wife, Donna Summer. However, his performing career began with his membership in a pair of early bands, Alive N Kickin’ and Brooklyn Dreams, although it was his personal and professional partnership with Summer that brought him his lion’s share of attention. Nevertheless, in the last couple of years, Sudano has jumpstarted his solo career and rebooted himself as a compelling singer/songwriter. His latest effort, Spirals, Vol. 1, a five-song EP, boasts a superb selection of melodic tunes sung from a personal and prophetic point of view. Opening track “The Mountain” finds him encouraging the listener to look at the bigger picture (“Don’t look at the mountain when you’re reaching for the sky”), while “Back in the Neighborhood” has him waxing nostalgically about his formative years. A disc flush with wistful reflection and sublime sentiment, Spirals, Vol. 1 has us begging for a sequel. (www.brucesudano.com)
Bill Curreri | Hard Road Home | (Independent)
It’s rare to find an artist that can ruminate and reflect on life and its challenges while still allowing that circumspect to resonate with listeners. After all, one’s own experiences don’t necessarily conform to the circumstances others encounter. As a result, sharing one’s own life lessons could be seen not only as overly indulgent but as having an alienating effect on the very people he or she is trying to inspire. Fortunately, Bill Curreri has managed to solve that conflicting dilemma. His new album — and third outing to date — tellingly-titled Hard Road Home, comes across as a concept effort of sorts, one that finds him grappling with the inevitable situations that accompany a life lived large — failed relationships, the quest for self-fulfillment, the need to balance earlier idealism with the wisdom brought forth through maturity and manhood, all while maintaining a positive outlook even in the face of adversity. As its title suggests, Hard Road Home doesn’t offer easy answers, and yet each of the songs in the set finds Curreri reflecting on the past with clear candor and deep deliberation. Happily though, for all its internal analysis, its songs are driving and dynamic, each a rallying cry that ought to elicit immediate interest and response. “Love Gone Wrong,” “Hard Road Home,” “Still Running,” “Heart of Stone” and the like are, for all their cautionary conceits, rollicking and robust. Clearly, Hard Road Home is a route well worth pursuing.
Tom Sless | California Dream | (Independent)
It’s evident from the first shimmer of piano on the title track of Tom Sless’ uplifting new album, California Dream, that the man’s sensitivity is shining through. Yet, at the same time, it doesn’t take him long to move from low-cast musings to anthemic inspiration. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that Sless’ populist approach brings to mind Bruce Springsteen in its drama, determination and delivery. With the second song, “Taking Me Back,” Sless morphs into a comfortable country feel, fed by pedal steel guitar, an easy lope and a plaintive plea. Surprisingly, California Dream is only Sless’ first album, but its assurance, craft and conviction belie the fact that he’s a novice or a newcomer of any kind. The affirmative stance of “Astronaut,” the emphatic delivery of “Ready To,” the rock-steady resolve of “Gimme the Breeze,” and the folksy affability of “Coming Home” each affirm his ability. It’s great stuff indeed. The lyric that accompanies the closing chorus of the aforementioned “Astronaut” asks the question, “Will anyone remember me?” Based on the evidence offered here, the answer is an emphatic yes indeed.
JC Hopkins Biggish Band | New York Moment | (Three-Jazz Records)
Although it was ushered in during a much earlier era — specifically the ’30s and ’40s — big band music is still inevitably intertwined with the sound of American jazz, a genre that represents this country with as much of an indelible imprint as baseball, hot dogs and the Stars and Stripes. Credit the JC Hopkins Biggish Band with carrying on that heralded musical tradition in New York Moment, an album that reflects the sweeping sound of big band music in all dynamic diversity. Having recorded with the likes of such luminaries as Norah Jones, Elvis Costello, Madeleine Peyroux, Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Martha Wainwright and many others, bandleader and Grammy winner JC Hopkins has an ear for authenticity, one that’s manifest on the upbeat intro “Beguiled,” the effusive jazz designs of “We Can Change the World,” the swinging sound of “Better Get To It,” and the cool blues balladry imbued in “One of Those Days.” An array of performers embellish the proceedings — vocalist and trumpet player Nico Sarbanes; singers Joy Hanson, Vanisha-Arleen Gould and Shawn Whitehorn; and tenor saxophonist Drew Vandewinkle. As a result, the band’s new album could be considered a collaborative creation, one as evocative as it is effusive. Indeed, there are ample elements of both. (www,jchopkins.com)