Susan DeVita may not be a household name in Los Angeles but she wouldn’t mind changing that. “I haven’t spent a lot of time in L.A. but of course I would love to play there!” says DeVita. Singer-songwriter Devita fell in love with music “as a young child . . . while dancing away the Brooklyn afternoons to Beatles records! ‘She Loves You’ and ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’ were tops in the rotation.”
DeVita would listen for hours–singing all of John Lennon’s harmonies. Her musical leanings are not only a product of environment but heredity as well. DeVita recalls “endless jam sessions” where her grandfather and her uncles—all professional musicians—would improvise on old standards while smiling and shouting out chords to each other.
DeVita was soon learning to play the piano once her family relocated to Long Island. DeVita quickly developed an ability to pick out songs by ear and play with both hands. Her singing and playing skills would continue to grow as she graduated from Lynbrook Senior High School in 1979. She would go on to study English/Communications at St. John’s University.
DeVita soon developed a vocal style and songwriting abilities that garnered her a production contract with producer Arif Mardin (Carly Simon, Aretha Franklin, Nora Jones). VP Paul Atkinson (ABBA, Bruce Hornsby, Patty Smyth) would subsequently sign her to RCA Records. Her music took a backseat, however, when she went on “a heartfelt sabbatical” to raise and care for her “Golden Boy” son James.
DeVita soon returned to performing and recording. She worked with multi-talented performer and producer John Tabacco. “She has an interesting way of writing songs” says Tabacco.
DeVita elaborates: “I write in the air! The words and melody generally hit me together at the same time, almost like dictation. I’m not sure whether to pick up a pencil or a catcher’s mitt!”
This leaves DeVita with a predicament: “This leaves me frantic for some way to record the idea. In the past I would dial my own answering machine and record a demo! Now I wait for a red light and make a voice memo on the iPhone. “
The process, of course, is not yet complete. DeVita continues: “I never sit down to the piano until the song is finished- then I figure out the chords, etc. I refer to this as being ‘unencumbered’!”
DeVita’s process sometimes varies as far as what incites her. “When not writing in the air, it’s usually the sound of lawn mowers, clothes dryers.” She even once ‘wrote a song on Tupperware bowls (and) once on a pair of black velvet pumps!” In fact, she says she “banged them on the kitchen table!” DeVita claims: “Silence is the enemy. I like to be surrounded by chaos when composing.” In fact she says she often writes “lyrics while sitting in on John’s band rehearsals”.
DeVita put out her debut disc on the Modern Voices Distribution label in 2007. It was a ten-tune album that featured the rhythmic “Stiff Competition” and “Saturday Girl”. DeVita has recorded with other performers as well. In 2008 she joined together with the indie artists Marci Geller and Cathy Kreger to form the acoustic act Lucky 13.
She would continue to write and perform and in 2010 would release her new CD Something Good on Maple City Records. The 13-track project which includes material from 1987 through 2010 features DeVita on lead and back-up vocals, tambourine and bottles. She is backed by a number of notable musicians including producer and engineer Tabacco on guitar, bass, keys, back-ups and programming.
The lead-in is “Something Good”. This titular track is an appropriate opening to the album. It introduces an audience to an interesting artist with a sometimes sultry voice and atypical writing talent. While her softer songs may lend some critics to compare her to Carly Simon and Carole King one soon discovers her most obvious influences are actually male.
DeVita admits: “I am embarrassed in this day and age to tell you that 99% of my inspiration still comes from ‘boys’. Every man has a song in him–if he gives you two–don’t let him go!” In fact, the second selection, the sweet and sexy “You Turn Me On” was co-written with Tabacco and works well here.
DeVita, who labels herself an “open minded Italian Catholic girl” openly admits how inspired she often is by The Beatles. In fact, she confesses her “patron saint” is “John the Beatle” and first demonstrates this in “Where’s My Yoko?” which features guest artist Anthony Pomes on guitar and bass. Of Pomes work on the disc in general DeVita states: “Anthony did some gorgeous guitar and bass work! He’s lightning in a jar!”
Pomes said: “I enjoyed playing on Susan DeVita’s CD very much!” Indeed, Pomes returns to lend his talents on “People Are People” another inspired piece. DeVita says she “actually wrote ‘People are People’ while listening to (Lennon’s) “Instant Karma!” In fact, if you listen carefully to the closing of the song you’ll notice a borrowed Lennon line included in tribute.
“Saturday Girl”, like “You Turn Me On” (once recorded with Lucky 13) is a welcome encore of a previously-released song and features Pomes on guitar. It is also an effective reminder that although she is oft’inspired by men she is, indeed, a woman. (Hey! Ya gotta love a song where a sexy siren sings about licking raindrops off your skin, ya know? Just hope Tabacco didn’t write that line . . .)
Guitarist Pomes appears again on “Nobody Says Sweetheart Anymore” yet another fine example of DeVita’s collaborations with Tabacco. He also appears on “The Girl’s Romantic”, this one is yet another example of the material DeVita is capable of writing on her own in the genres of pop and adult contemporary music.
The Catholic cutie confesses in an encore of “I Confess”. This is the first track on the disc to feature Paul Simon’s bassist Bakithi Kumalo. This one takes “Critic’s Choice” only because your randy writer is happy to hear that at least one blacked out, drunken night with a gal with a guitar resulted in a complimentary song instead of a ballad about womanizing. (But seriously, folks, it’s a song that any man would be happy to have written for him, OK?) It’s simple yet sincere and effective.
The next number is “Getaway Car”. Paul Simon fans will love this one. One can easily see Simon himself doing this one on a Graceland-like album. It’s followed by a love song called “To The End Of The World”. This one is also very much a Paul Simon-like song. Indeed, DeVita freely admitted: “Paul Simon is a member of my holy trinity: Lennon/McCartney/Simon.” She was quite happy to have Kumalo play bass on this track, too, confirming that “he was Simon’s bass player on Graceland.”
“Eyes Undressed” and “You Shot Me With The Moon” are two more cuts composed with Tabacco. Somehow though, the songs still seems to come off as pure DeVita. Whether this is a testimony of Tabacco’s ability to put the focus on the siren’s song or DeVita’s ability to make anyone’s material her own remains to be seen.
Perhaps they simply work well together. It doesn’t matter. All that really matters is the tuneful team-up works. (The latter track is also highlighted by Teddy Kumpel on guitars, bass and drums.)
The closing cut brings back Pomes on bass and guitar for a noteworthy number named “Barefoot Girl Walking By” which once more showcases DeVita’s abilities as a versatile singer-songwriter. Tabacco himself states: “She’s a wonderful singer and her writing is closer to Paul Simon and Lennon & McCartney than the usual three people they always compare women writers to—i.e. Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon, Carole King . . . She’s got a gift with words and composing concise melodies . . .” Of the album Tabacco concludes: “It’s a great CD and I’m proud to have it in my catalog.”
Indeed, DeVita, who most recently the song “Such a Mystery”—a cover of a song by Peter Kearns—seems capable of paying frequent tribute to her favorite singer-songwriters in songs that while obviously influenced by others somehow remain unique. DeVita writes songs that are both universal and yet somehow still intimate. Presently located in Honesdale, PA, (a mere two hours from where your crusty chronicler grew up) DeVita is currently working with Tabacco on her next project tentatively titled The Kama Sutra Rodeo. If it’s of the same quality as her current offering it will surely be Something Good,
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.