Steve Conn’s stellar fifth album, Flesh and Bone, brings together rootsy grooves, incisive lyrics and imaginative production
“It’s a bad neighborhood, but I keep coming back,” Steve Conn sings in the title cut to his fifth album, Flesh And Bone. “Searching for mercy, in spite of the facts,” he declares, inviting listeners on a guided tour of flowing grooves and vivid tales that hit extremely close to home.
Conn’s songs illuminate the human experience in a way few can. And given his many achievements and glowing accolades, it’s not surprising that he continues to best his own impressive high-water marks.
The son of a noted swing bandleader and a witty, vivacious bank teller, the masterful pianist, vocalist and songwriter has been on a quest for love, hope and truth since his earliest days. Take a listen to the gospel-tinged ballad “Sing Me To The Other Side,” and you’ll be immediately transported back to the loamy soil of central Louisiana where his career began. Conn’s time spent making music in the mountains of Colorado, the canyons of Los Angeles and the hills outside Nashville also colors his musical and lyrical insights.
He’s wry, but rootsy. Erudite but funky. And his songs offer unforgettable glimpses into experiences you might know all too well. “Sackcloth and ashes, 10,000 naps, there’s not a lot I have not tried / I don’t understand why I’m still not satisfied,” he sings before embarking on a virtuosic Wurlitzer excursion inside the simmering syncopation of “Satisfied.”
Conn has been known to call his oeuvre “drinking music for thinking people,” but that summation might not leave room for the elegant ache of “Annalee” and the delicate exploration of the long-faded relationship at the heart of “Forever Seventeen.” His opening lines can be both arresting and inviting, as in “Doing The Best I Can,” and his songs’ bridges are magnificently transporting, as in the string-led break on the confessional “You Don’t Know.”
Like the top-shelf players on Flesh And Bone, the multi-instrumentalist knows how to gracefully support a song and a singer. He’s toured Europe with legendary bluesman Albert King, played on “The Tonight Show” with acclaimed vocalist Shelby Lynne, and joined rock’n’roll icon Levon Helm onstage at the famed Ryman Auditorium. Conn has also played on 10 Grammy-nominated albums with artists from Bonnie Raitt to Sonny Landreth, and was the founding musical director of eTown, the weekly performance showcase heard on hundreds of public radio stations.
The songwriter also knows that sometimes success comes a little too late, as he sings in his new album’s opener, “Famous,” which shares a south-Louisiana feel with “Around and Around,” which matches mysticism with a raucous second-line groove. Conn plays accordion on the latter track, alto sax on the title cut, and melodica on the surging, cathartic “Let Me Cry.”
“Good Times Are Coming” is a novella-like companion to “Down On Rigolette,” from 2003’s Steve Conn, and it offers a different perspective on the tragedy and triumphs of the original tale. Flesh And Bone closes on an ethereal, elegiac note, floating away seemingly “Without A Trace,” but Conn’s latest collection of insightful songs and tour-de-force performances assures you that he won’t be disappearing anytime soon.