The Susan Rumors was conceived in the back room at the Dragonfly Music & Coffee Cafe in Somerville, NJ by Joe Furnari, Mark Nuzzi and Bruce Tunkel.
Back in the 1980s, Bruce was a member of The Red House, and Mark and Joe were members of Soul Engines, both legendary bands. I was there and remembered playing with both artists during my time with In Between Dreams. This was during a very creative period for New Jersey original music, and the scene was churning out some interesting sounds. The two bands’ paths often crossed, and they played together on some shows. Soul Engines also recorded some demos at Bruce’s Beanland Studios. It was there they discovered their mutual love (and I would agree) of WPIX Channel 11’s classic 11 p.m. lineup of The Honeymooners, Odd Couple and Star Trek, and The Godfather movies.
Fast forward some 25 years. Mark and Joe were writing and performing as The Jenny Pilots. A chance encounter brought them together with Bruce on a few shows. Mark and Bruce discovered that they lived near each other and the three got together at Beanland to record a Jenny Pilots demo.
A trip to the Dragonfly during the session to check out the open mic night was auspicious. The Jenny Pilots and Bruce performed for the first of what has become many times.
One night, soon after, an interesting idea was put forth: “Why don’t we start a Traveling Wilburys kind of band?” It took off like wildfire. Ten songs were written in a few weeks, with Joe, Mark, and Bruce bouncing ideas off each other effortlessly, collaboration in the truest sense. Each song would have Mark and Bruce sharing lead vocals, weaving in and out of harmonies with each other, while Joe anchored the songs with guitar hooks.
Recording the songs proved effortless also. Gino Scelza (from Soul Engines) on bass and Johnny Macko (from another great local band Maybe Pete) on drums completed the group. The result is a pop masterpiece with an impeccable NJ rock pedigree.
The group’s latest self-titled disc, The Susan Rumors, also features the sax work of Steve Peckman. The songs were all written within the band by Tunkel, Furnari, and Nuzzi. I had recently received the disc from Bruce and thought I would go through it for our readers and see what they have produced.
The first song up is “Everywhere.” Starting off with acoustic guitars and shortly joined by electrics, the band kicks straight into this poppy rock ditty. Vocalists Tunkel and Nuzzi leads things off for the group as they take turns at the verse, heading down that brightly lit road of Tom Petty meets The Knack. Drum work from Johnny Macko is perfectly matched by bass work from Gino Scelza, who is an original member of Soul Engines. Tunkel also plays great guitar and keyboards alongside Furnari and Nuzzi. The song is an example of solid construction, and the chorus kicks right where it should. Verses are straightforward and catchy as hell. Bridges lead right into memorable choruses before hitting the bridge with excellent backing vocals and Peter Buck-styled lead guitar. The last verse chimes with piano before kicking back into the final addictive chorus and outro.
Next up is “Found Some Good.” Tunkel starts things off with melodic piano work as the band gears up for their inevitable joining in that is an incredibly powerful explosion of sound. Once everyone’s in the song takes a different direction of blistering rock and roll introduction before sinking back into subtle verse before exploding once again with a bridge that rivals anything The Godfathers ever did. Once again Tunkel and Nuzzi alternate verses, joining for harmony work as the band plays to a frenzied climax. The song ends with a fulcrum of balance work that leads them to a refreshing blend of pop and rock conclusions.
“Don’t Mind The Mess” takes off with a bluesy shot of Eric Burden and War sort of feel. As the song builds it goes deeper into a fantastic mix of honky-tonk meets swampy voodoo rock. Vocal harmonies are Beatle-esque and filled with tone for days. Guitar work by Furnari is reminiscent of John Fogarty from his Creedence Clearwater Revival days. Once again choruses sing with feeling and ripe appeal as the band does its thing. Great song and a phenomenal performance.
“Blondie Boo” is a good combination of Elvis Costello and the Gin Blossoms. Guitars crank against pianos, bass, and drums as Tunkel and Nuzzi trade off vocal chores and chorus harmonies. The song hunches along, trading ’80s-style verses with big, open rock choruses. “Blondie Boo” also brings some of that Boss swagger in the chorus before hitting with a power chord bridge that leads the band back into a more subdued single verse before kicking the fantastic chorus work once more. They outro with commingled vocal harmonies and jangling guitar work to beat the band.
Jumping around the disc, I came to “Girl Band.” Tunkel leads things off with some intricate piano work as vocals tell the tale of the voice coming to him from afar. This song is an ode (possibly a dig) to that all girl musical prodigy of wonder. Bass, drums, and guitars remain humble as vocalists harmonize with style and talent equaled by not too many. The guitar middle-eight is thick, Buddy Holly-inspired rumble before vocals come back into play. The lyrics tell of the feeling of being made to feel “I’m a new man” and I would agree when discussing the overall song. Harmonies and syncopated instrumentation bring this delightful tune to its completion.
Another highlight is “All I Am.” The song starts off with an almost George Benson’s “Broadway” with its hits but shortly turns from that direction as the members unfold their contributions to the tune. References like “Hey Mikey, he likes it too” remind me of those early days of TV brilliance as the band delves deeper into their original direction. Three Stooges, Three Musketeers, and other pop icons raise their heads within the structure as Tunkel and Nuzzi rip into their prospective vocal parts. Guitars growl under layers of tube lit distortion before zoning into single string lead riffs over the top of seamless vocals.
“Damn Too Many Places” pulls out the band’s funk vein and they do it right as rain. Guitars snap and pop over dynamic bass and drum work as Tunkel and Nuzzi harmonize with perfect pitch and tone. Guitar work on the bridge is amazing. Gearing up with funk-inspired riffs, the middle opens into a wah-wah-driven lead that would make Robin Trower sit up and take notice. This band did their prospective homework when writing this music and it comes across like gangbusters. The guitar work at the end is also a high point, and I believe Joe Furnari is doing that, but I’m not sure. Probably my favorite song on the disc.
The disc ends with “Get Along.” Tunkel’s piano work starts things off as both himself and Nuzzi co-sing the entire song. These two sound as if they’ve been singing together since birth. Straightforward and succinct, the pair soar on “Get Along” as guitars roll and strum patterns of complexity and brilliance underneath. These songs are so well constructed that it’s painful to know these guys aren’t famous. Electrics rumble in lazy, hazy riffs of sonic bliss as Tunkel and Nuzzi unfold their story of being done with “wasted times.” The outlook of so many new roads to ride is center to their lyrical approach here, and everything they sing makes perfect sense to me. “My only rule of thumb now is never look down”—great lyric of many on this smart disc. Once again choruses are simple and beautifully composed as is the music and the parts played. I love the electric guitar riffs that trail the vocals like gold fringe on a royal cape.
The Susan Rumors have produced a phenomenal disc that everyone should own. It’s pure Jersey original roots talent at its very best and if you get a chance to see them live I wouldn’t skip that particular night. The Susan Rumors’ CD bypassed all expectations that I may have had and left me with yet another outstanding artist that needs to be heard beyond the state borders.
If you get a chance, head over to the band’s site or find them on Facebook to get you a copy of The Susan Rumors. For more info on the band or the disc, head over to thesusanrumors.com.