John DeNicola

She Said to be released via Omad Records  Nov 5, 2021

The muse works in mysterious ways. Case in point: John DeNicola. After some five decades in the recording industry, the award-winning songwriter and producer made his first album as an artist in 2019. Fast forward—very fast—to now, for the release its follow-up, She Said. And while DeNIcola’s debut, The Why Because, had him interpreting tunes he’d originally penned for others, She Said was conceived and created for one voice, one touch, and one heart: his own. 

“The groundwork laid down on The Why Because gave me the confidence to do another record right on its heels,” DeNicola explains. “I holed up in my barn studio and built these tracks from scratch, playing all different instruments from guitars to synths, sitar to congas. I’m comfortable working this way, yet it was new for me and really fun to write purely about what I wanted to say.” 

The phrase, “This time it’s personal” clearly applies, from the dreamy complexities-of-love story of the title track through nods to the Sixties’ and Seventies’ soul and rock DeNicola grew up on.  Somehow, though, the more intimate, the more universal the album’s appeal, whether you’re lofted by the gravity-defying harmonies of “High,” hitting the floor with the irresistibly dance-y “Breathe Deep,” or digging into the darker, guitar-driven single “Float on Hope” (and its hand-drawn animated video, which decries the destruction of the Amazon and the earth’s endangered wellbeing at large).

Universal appeal from the guy who wrote “(I Had) The Time of My Life”?  Go figure! A Long Island, New York, native, DeNicola began playing in bands as a kid in the 1970s and was a member of the jazz-fusion quintet Flight, which released the acclaimed album Excursion Beyond on Motown. Yet as time went on, he found himself drawn more to a creative life behind the scenes. Collaborating with fellow tunesmith Franke Previte on those “TOML” and “Hungry Eyes,” the two mega-hits from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack — which held the #1 spot on the Billboard 200 albums chart for 18 weeks and ultimately sold more than 60 million copies worldwide — netted DeNicola an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a Grammy nomination, and ASCAP’s Songwriter of the Year award in 1988. 

Such success meant freedom, and DeNicola used it to nurture new talent (discovering a little band called Kara’s Flowers, who later changed their name to Maroon 5), supply radio-ready tunes for contemporary chart-toppers while composing for an annual Shakespeare festival, and launch his boutique label, Omad Records. As he puts it: “I had the opportunity to continue in the business and build relationships with people from all aspects of the music world.” Now, a host of those relationships represent on She Said, collaborating on craft and adding some serious chops. 

Patti Maloney, one of DeNicola’s favorite longtime cowriters, lent her special way with words to four of the record’s prettiest, poppiest tunes, while Procol Harum’s Keith Reid, responsible for the poetry of “A Whiter Shade of Pale,” provided lyrics for “Battered Cloth,” a bittersweet reminiscence simply conveyed with piano and acoustic guitar. For “Float on Hope” and the stripped down, somber closing track “Sky,” he turned to Jason Stutts, an Omad artist who goes by the moniker Rust Dust

Although he does the lion’s share of playing on She Said, DeNicola did call on gifted friends to chime in at all the right places. There’s crystalline keyboards from Vinny Jessel, a spectrum of synths from Ray Weiss and  ripping guitar from axeman Zonder Kennedy on the post-apocalyptic “Morning Dew,” written by Bonnie Dobson in 1961. (The record’s only other cover is Steve Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home,” which has DeNicola layering on a host of instruments, including cello and tanpura, to remarkably simple effect.) She Said also features a veritable who’s who of percussionists,  from DeNicola’s son Jake (drummer for Omad act Fovea) and Chris Ryan, who provided the drum programing on the shimmery “Our Day Will Come,” to alt-rock kingpin Blake Fleming and the legendary Brian Delaney, who’s hit the skins for everyone from the New York Dolls to Wu Tang Clan to Melissa Etheridge. DeNicola even tapped the talents of guys he’s known since his tweens, including guitarist Ken Favre, pianist Alan Zahn and bagpiper Brad Davidson.

Assembling such a stellar cast might be daunting at any time; DeNicola managed it during the grip of a global pandemic. “I’d send a cowriter a basic track with a definite melody, possibly a few chorus lyrics, and hope that it painted a picture of what I was going for,” he says of the long-distance dynamic. “For the musicians, it was largely the same, except the tracks were more fleshed out.” 

Beyond the logistics of lockdown, the crises of 2020 lit a fire in DeNicola, as they surely did for so many artists in that unprecedented year. “It’s hard to explain why and how adversity or turmoil can be fertile ground for creativity,” he says. “These songs came together organically and rather easily, revealing themselves on an unconscious level, yet were nonetheless written in the midst of a pandemic, a challenge to our democracy, and some stark realizations about race relations—an overriding disappointment in the way Americans see each other.”

So while in no way planned as a “concept” project, the song sequence of She Said does have a story to tell. “There’s a narrative arc that begins with loving someone and loving each other as humans, countered by a warning of what’s happening to our planet and in our country, that winds up with at least the possibility of redemption,” says DeNicola, who delivers each song in his gently endearing, honest and uncontrived voice. “Rather than a string of singles, I’m hoping that this comes off as a full album that takes the listener on a bit of a journey.”

Pack a full heart, an open mind and a pair of eager ears—and come along to hear everything She Said.