The heart of winter in northern Maine is frigid, unforgiving and ostensibly opaque. Robert Bruey, who grew up in this region and left as a young man, nevertheless considered the winter to be a season of magical resonance. Bruey, who often expresses himself in poetic shorthand, conjured up one vivid memory of a frozen night: “The moon shining on the snow made midnight seem as day.” Those brazenly short days, along with the brutal cold, also affected his psyche. “The stillness and quiet of winter cleared my mind and allowed only thought to be heard,” he said. These themes of finding light in the darkness and appreciating how silence is a magnetic space that aids in the crystallization of thought and emotion are clearly echoed in Bruey’s life and music.
Since no one in Bruey’s working-class boyhood home played an instrument, the family filled the aural void with an ongoing soundtrack of Johnny Cash songs. Cash and Elton John were the first musicians to truly open up the introspective teen’s ears. “Johnny Cash was a voice for the working man and…Elton John’s music and lyrics were emotional for me,” said Bruey. He began writing poetry in his teens, but would not venture into the role of musician for another fifteen years.
“I knew I wasn’t cut out to live in northern Maine,” said Bruey, and at 20, he left Maine for New York. “I wasn’t where I was supposed to be,” he continued. Bruey quickly embarked on a successful career in sales but felt “incomplete playing the corporate game.” At 30, needing an expressive outlet for his all too familiar sense of alienation and displacement, Bruey started teaching himself guitar. The slow burn of needing to give voice to his sparking and percolating musical core was constant, and at 43, he played his first live gig—a short set of cover songs. From that moment on, Bruey’s career in music accelerated.
Four years later, Bruey has two CDs of exquisitely-sparse, self-penned catharsis under his belt. Songs from the Path and Silver Burning Sky followed in quick succession. They both contain a minimalist mixture of base elements such as guitar, cello and Bruey’s voice, an instrument steeped in silk and desperation. His raw emotional songs expose the existential angst and self-inflicted wounds he intermittently endured without bludgeoning the listener with banal specifics. “A lot of people go through things,” Bruey said. “They can make the songs their own.”
Bruey, now 46, has received critical acclaim for his CDs and live performances. Although he is deeply gratified by the broadening scale of his commercial footprint, he is predisposed to use his influence to foster social justice and to quietly promote his energy-based spirituality. A powerful example is the hauntingly beautiful piece, “Perdoname Hermano.” In the song, prominently featured in the PBS documentary Not in Our Town: Light in the Darkness, he achingly apologizes to Marcelo Lucero, who was murdered in a bias attack in Patchogue in 2008. Bruey said plaintively, “I cried when I heard about that.”
Despite the heavy material Bruey often confronts in his music, his personal life is in full flight. He is the proud father of three children and a newlywed, having married his beloved Dana this past May. Bruey, a Southold resident for the past two years, is enchanted by the physical similarities to his boyhood home. Of the metaphorical home in which he has also taken up residence, he said, “Music is where I belong.”
Robert Bruey will be playing at Sherwood House in Jamesport October 1 and 15 at 2pm, Bistro 25 in Sayville October 8 and 22 at 8pm, Ruvo Restaurant & Wine Bar in Port Jefferson October 13 at 7pm and Peconic Bay Winery in Cutchogue, October 21 at 6pm. Go to robertbruey.com for CDs and performance schedule.