Dan Bruder starts off his new album with the song “Blank Canvas” and proceeds to paint a lush, sonic landscape over the 10 original songs that comprise Evolution.
The Wayne resident had some help with this work, which is credited to the Dan Bruder Band, and the team starts with John Ginty. New Jersey’s go-to keyboard player does his usual stellar work on organ and piano, and makes Bruder’s songs shine as the producer.
Bruder underpins Evolution as the singer-songwriter, but this is no lyrical walk in a park full of acoustic guitars and happy sing-alongs. Along with covering personal relationships, the veteran rocker offers social commentary, party songs, snarly vocals and cautionary tales from a pair of weary but wise eyes.
The rhythm guitarist lists Bruce Springsteen, The Allman Brothers Band and the Grateful Dead as his primary influences. But there are also hints of Dire Straits, Ian Hunter and AC/DC in Bruder’s writing on Evolution.
Bruder paid his musical dues like many of his New Jersey brethren did, first shaking ceiling tiles loose during basement practices before moving upstairs to play in garage bands. Later, he graduated to playing clubs and then opening for and collaborating with notable acts (including Nils Lofgren, The Smithereens, Mick Ronson, Leon Russell and Robert Gordon). Then came time off to raise a family before he resurfaced and made a name for himself with the rock-comedy web series “Who the Hell is Dan Bruder?”
Out of that came the Dan Bruder Band and the 2010 release Act of Kindness. Now, he’s back with Evolution.
“I have no logical explanation for what has kept me doing this since the 1980s. I guess I still have something to say musically and lyrically. It is obviously not for fame and fortune,” says the Maplewood native, who sounds at times a bit like Richie Havens, Jakob Dylan or John Hiatt. “The biggest thrill for me is to have the album comprised of old songs I wrote decades ago mixed with new ones. The evolution of the songwriting is how the title of the album came about.”
There are several events planned to mark the release of Evolution, which came out early this summer. One is to be held at PonderRosa Studios in Lafayette (Sussex County), and will be filmed for a separate release.
Bruder and company — including Moe Watson (Ginty’s drummer), Muddy Shews (bass), guitarists David Biglin, Jimmy Bennett, Michael Lawlor and Mike Buckman (also from Ginty’s band) and saxophonist Joe Arminio — bring his songs to life throughout. There is no filler here.
Watson provides the thunder when needed on drums and is fine keeping time, but he mixes up the rhythms enough to keep the sound alive and moving. Shews (formerly of Southside Johnny’s Asbury Jukes) is back from Act of Kindness and does what a bass player is supposed to do: lock in with the drummer and not get in the way of the instrumentalists.
The guitar players bring a mix of styles, yet the album has a cohesive feel instead of giving the listener the sense that it has been pieced together through a cut-and-paste process.
The ensemble starts things off with the guitar-driven “Blank Canvas,” and Ginty provides counterbalance with delicate piano fills early, surging Hammond B-3 later on, and a piano riff to close things out.
Another standout track is “Indivisible,” which starts with Bruder singing in a confessional tone before the tempo picks up. The rhythm crunches along mightily on guitar, with lead notes looping over that as the lyrics speak of an America that is not what it once was.
Ginty shines on “Shout” with his B-3 solo before giving way to Arminio and his wailing sax. Later, the organ, sax and guitar parts combine on the rave-up that closes out this song.
On “Reentry,” which features an atmospheric, ethereal passage, Doreen Arminio (Joe’s wife) adds a nice touch with background vocals. And there’s no shortage of singers on this disc: Watson, Russ Lia and Joe Webster also add background vocals.
Sparta native Patrick Fitzsimmons (of roots-rockers From Good Homes) and Tom Askin (The Samples) add background vocals to the rollicking “Girls Night” – they are the ones singing/shouting “Don’t give a damn” in a call-and-response with Bruder. This tune, with its raucous opening, does AC/DC proud: There’s plenty of crunchy guitar playing and frog-in-the-throat vocals by Bruder. Bennett, who handles all the slide-guitar work on the album, closes out “Girls Night” with a slide lick that sounds like it could be coming from a bagpipe.
Along with his keyboard parts, Ginty helped pull it all together as the producer.
“I played keys on Dan’s first record, and played a small role in his TV show,” the Morristown native says. “I helped him get the band together for this recording, and about halfway through he needed a fresh perspective to help get it across the finish line.
“Studios can be black holes if you lose your way, so I was happy to come in and help him put a bow on it. The good stuff was on the tape; we just had to identify it and turn it up.”
Ben Elliott of American Showplace Music studios in Dover, who produced Act of Kindness, returned this time to master the album.
Ginty likes putting on the producer’s hat in addition to his busy schedule of recording and touring with the Dixie Chicks, his own band and others.
“I’ve actually been producing quite a bit lately. It’s a role I enjoy very much,” the Bernardsville resident explains. “I just produced a record for N.J. rock heroes Resurge, and also a record for singer-songwriter Katie Henry. I learned how to make records from the best of the best, and it’s super-rewarding to be applying that knowledge and experience in the studio.”
That experience came into play on Evolution, which clocks in at just over 44 minutes and was recorded at PonderRosa Studios.
“When John came in to do some additional tracking,” Bruder says, “we got talking and it became apparent very quickly to me that he was the necessary captain the steer the ship from a production standpoint. It can be a very uncomfortable feeling to agree to hand the reins over to someone, but I had a lot of trust in John’s technical, operational and artistic sensibilities and discipline. It proved to be a very wise move on my part.”
And a big part of Bruder’s Evolution.
Tom Skevin is an award-winning journalist and music publicist who resides in Sussex County. He can be emailed at email@example.com
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Bruder is a solid writer/composer and has an awesome roster of musicians on this album.
Bruder is probably one of the most under-recognized songwriters in NJ and the Who the hell is Dan Bruder web series was hilarious. Thank you Tom Skevin for bringing well deserved attention to him.
“Evolution” is a worthy follow up album to Dan’s first release. Great article.
Bruder is of NJ’s best.
Bruder and Ginty are a potent musical combination. Rawk!!!!
Brilliant song writing!
Bruder is a good song writer and a profoundly strong lyricist. As the follow up to his debut album “Act of Kindness,” the new album “Evolution” has more meat on the bones from a production standpoint, but that doesn’t get in the way of him still being able to tell wonderful stories with vivid imagery with songs like “Indivisible” and “City Tear.” I’ve been a fan for 40 years, starting in his bar band days in South Orange and Maplewood NJ, and glad to see he is still going for it.
Jeff, I couldn’t agree more! See my comment below.
Evolution has a couple tunes that are SO timely for the current political turmoil in America. I got chills listening to “City Tear” talk about “A big man’s come to town this week to sell us our flag” but yet it was written by Bruder in the early 1980’s. “Indivisible” is a stunning portrait of our country today with the riots, protests and oppression, and he prophetically wrote this in 2016. This guy writes some worthy material, surrounds himself with killer musicians and delivers!