As its title implies Steve Conte‘s new solo album, Bronx Cheer, on Wicked Cool Records, is as rowdy and raucous a collection of rock and roll as any you’ll hear this year. Not only are the songs quintessential New York City, they are the epitome of the city’s black-leather-clad heart and soul.
Conte is such an established sideman, having played with everyone from Paul Simon to the New York Dolls, it’s sometimes easy to forget just how good he is fronting his own band. Not only is he a gifted instrumentalist, he’s a talented songwriter and a versatile vocalist. After hearing this album you’ll be wondering why he’s not filling arenas like other Jersey-bred rock stars.
Conte doesn’t make any pretences about what he is or where his heart lies when it comes to music. Listen and you can hear traces of everything from blues, country, punk and rock and roll. The mandolin infused “Flying” is reminiscent of early Rod Stewart while “Gimmie Gimmie Rockaway” can’t help but make you think of The Ramones.
However, Conte doesn’t copy or imitate. He’s inspired and influenced. You might hear echoes of someone else in his music, but what you’re really hearing is a sound being passed down through generations of musicians and given a new distillation.
That’s what talented musicians do. They take their love of what came before and add themselves into that mix to make it unique. It’s how music progresses and grows. Listening to Conte is hearing the continuing evolution of rock and roll: the familiar made different and exciting all over again.
The album kicks off with the blistering, and slightly caustic, “The Human Animal”. A two-minute frolic, the song pokes fun at some of the lamer excuses people have for sleeping around. Makes it obvious that sometimes we humans are no better than dogs sniffing at each others’ butts. “Two hands for a brand new squeeze/she’s gotta taste every single one/cause when you’re dead there’s no more fun”.
The thing about Conte is that while his musical antecedents are obvious (think of the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main Street) lyrically he goes far beyond the standard rock and roll tropes. “Guilty”, the ninth song on the album, is a great example of this.
Sure it’s a breakup song but instead of oh, she/he treated me bad or cheated on me or whatever, Conte looks beneath the surface. Fingers are pointed in both directions – it wasn’t just one person’s fault – and the relationship ends not because “she done treat me wrong”, but because she’d been treated wrong by someone else and never recovered. “Well you shut me out, just like your old man done/Then you took off in the night like a hit and run/…Now I know you can’t give love/The way that you should/But baby when you gonna see I only mean to do you good”.
Many people, of either gender, who’ve experienced trauma have an extremely difficult time either loving somebody else or realizing anybody could actually care for them. Conte is breaking new ground simply by acknowledging this situation exists.
Bronx Cheer from Steve Conte is a wonderful rock and roll album. As in all Conte does it’s lovingly crafted and technically refined. However, what pushes it over the top is the amount of love that’s gone into the album. Conte has written a love song to rock and roll in 11 parts, and it’s as lovely an ode as you’ll hear anywhere.