Nearly 35 years after a certain smash hit he co-wrote on the “Dirty Dancing” soundtrack earned him an Oscar, a Grammy nom and an ASCAP award for Songwriter of the Year, singer/songwriter John DeNicola is still having the time of his life – only now on his own terms as an alternately romantic and socially conscious indie artist.
As warmly soulful and majestic as his 2019 debut The Why Because was, the collection featured his own fresh interpretations of songs he’d penned over the years for others, of course including “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” and “Hungry Eyes.” Having gotten that long percolating project out of his system, DeNicola could have just rested on his laurels and called it a career.
Instead, flush with a new wave of dreamy, groovin’ and rockin’ creativity, he holed up in his barn studio during the year of quarantine and built from scratch the tracks that evolved into his infectious, insightful and emotionally impactful new collection She Said, playing everything from guitars and synths to sitars and congas – and co-writing and later obtaining parts from prominent guests (from Procol Harum lyricist Keith Reid and synth master Ray Weiss to Zonder Kennedy (guitar), Blake Fleming (drums) and Brian Delaney (drums). DeNicola’s son Jake (drummer for Omad act Fovea) is also on board. From the laid back, dreamy and shimmering opener “She Said” through the jangling, distortion fired pop rocker “Float on Hope” (an incisive look at our planet’s environmental foibles that invokes the childhood fantasy of Ziggy Stardust) and the sweet, folk-tinged acoustic closer “Sky” (a richly poetic relationship post-mortem), DeNicola offers a range of moods (from despairing to hopeful) and stylistic excursions.
She Said is not a literal concept album per se, but in an age where single track releases are the norm, the singer harkens back to the way music was presented in his formative years by creating something of a narrative that begins with the foundation of interpersonal and universal love, offers edgy opinions about the slow degradation of our planet and country and pokes a few holes of cautiously optimistic light into the tunnel. It’s testament to DeNicola’s still deep and keenly sensitive songwriting virtuosity that his originals here stack up so well with the two thematically appropriate re-imaginings he includes of Bonnie Dobson’s haunting post-apocalyptic meditation “Morning Dew” (which opens with a sliver of ominous bagpipes) and Steve Winwood’s Blind Faith classic “Can’t Find My Way Home.”