Joe Brucato settles into a comfortable sofa in his spacious living room and picks up a guitar. He strums the opening chords to "Save America." It's one of a new batch of songs the singer-songwriter is passionate about; this one sounds like a working-class anthem for people frustrated by politics and the economy. The Irondequoit resident is in a gregarious mood. "Songs are a gift of the spirit, my friend, and I'm feeling blessed," he says.
If you live in Rochester, chances are you've heard Joe Brucato's voice on the radio. It all started with his father, Chuck. Chuck Brucato was a member of the local 60's band The Rustix. That group signed a contract with Motown and produced the album "Bedlam." Eventually Chuck Brucato, a songwriter and vocalist, went on to create TV and radio jingles, including several father-son collaborations that feature Joe.
In high school Joe Brucato and his friend Dennis Casey wrote songs and shared a deep appreciation for music. The duo left town in the early 90's to pursue their fledgling music careers in California. After playing shows in Los Angeles, Brucato says that their group The Rise got the attention of legendary A&R man Charlie Minor, who Brucato says presented the promise of a major-record deal. But before those plans could come to fruition, Minor was murdered in Malibu in March 1995. Following that tragedy the band parted ways amicably, with Casey becoming Flogging Molly's guitarist and Brucato starting on his journey to become a solo performer and composer.
An initial highlight of his solo career was an independent record contract. The subsequent CD, 1999's "Swallow All of You," featured Casey on guitar, and won a Los Angeles music award for male singer-songwriter of the year. "Those songs remind me of days in L.A. and how a big city can swallow all of you," he says.
Eight years would pass before the follow-up album, "Free," came out in 2007. A family emergency caused Brucato to put the traction he earned on the West Coast on hold by moving back to Rochester in 2002 to help take care of his grandmother. "I realized how much my family needed me, and I had to be there for them as they had always been there for me. It was a crossroads," he says.
"Free" was recorded in Rochester and in L.A. with industry heavyweights Steve Gadd (drums) and Tony Levin (bass). The album's initial vocal and drum tracks were recorded in a house in Webster, by Grammy-winning mixing engineer Mick Guzauski and local engineer Jeff Gilhart. The resulting local record-release party with Gadd and Levin spread over two nights, and both shows sold out.
A stripped-down, 20-track CD, "Acoustic Joe Volume 1," was released in 2009, and by that time several of the songs in the baritone's catalogue were already being used in network TV programs like "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Young and the Restless."
In 2009, a news story about Jason Johnston, a soldier from Albion killed while serving in Afghanistan, inspired Brucato to write a tribute to America's fallen soldiers and military veterans. "I look at 'Thank You Soldier' as a great gift. I've always realized how fortunate I am to be able to enjoy the freedoms of this country. When I saw the ultimate sacrifice this young man made I was compelled to write about it," Brucato says.
"Thank You Soldier" is a full-scale production that blends traditional acoustic songwriting with a score by Rochester Philharmonics Pops Conductor Jeff Tyzik, performed by members of the RPO. It's one of the singer-songwriter's most recognized tunes and has created the kind of spark that helps fuel a musical career. Brucato performed "Thank You Soldier" and several other original songs at a 2011 Veterans Day concert at the Georgia Dome in front of the largest crowd in his life.
So it's no wonder that Brucato gets excited when he talks about the present. He recently signed a publishing and recording deal with major music publisher BMI. He has an upcoming 4th of July concert scheduled in Atlanta. Two albums are being currently recorded at The Studios at Linden Oaks in Rochester. One is an Americana-inspired solo project, the other is a group effort, a debut CD with his band The Joyous Noise featuring Jeff Martin (guitar), Mark Terranova (bass), and Levi Bennett (drums).
Maybe one of those albums will be titled "44." That number has been a reoccurring theme throughout the singer-songwriter's body of work, and Brucato's personal symbol. "Fourty-four is a spiritual thing to me. It represents energy, excitement, passion, and love. It's always been there for me as a positive," Brucato says.
Like many of his new musical creations, Brucato feels like a work in progress, and he likes it that way. "It's the journey, not the destination," he says. "I love the joy I get from the challenge of completing a song. There's so many songs to write, so much love to make, so much joy to bring to others through music."