Review: Steve Conte & the Crazy Truth

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Steve Conte and the Crazy Truth

Steve Conte is a veteran of the music scene who over the years has fronted his own bands and also served as a sideman for an illustrious list of well established artists. If you’re a fan of anime, you may also recognize his singing from the soundtracks of genre classics like Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell. Most recently, however, he has been touring and recording as the lead guitarist of the New York Dolls. His latest project, Steve Conte & the Crazy Truth, finds him once again striking out on his own, playing guitar and singing lead, as the frontman of a band. He’s joined here by the solid rhythm section of Lee Kostrinsky on bass and Phil Stewart on drums.

Lyrically, the album evokes the legendary grittiness of a Lower East Side of Manhattan that is becoming increasingly difficult to find as the Disneyfication of New York city continues apace. Whether this process should be seen as a good or a bad thing, well, I’ll leave that for you to decide on your own. Musically, the album fits well within the broader style encompassing bands like the Dolls and other 70s glam acts. It’s mostly a collection of straightforward, bluesy rockers featuring sing along hooks that are played with a punkish abandon, although there are a few slower numbers that provide a bit of a breather from the frenetic pace.

Steve Conte and the Crazy Truth opens up with the full-on rocker, “This is the End,” which sets up the mood for the whole album. There’s a welcoming hint of familiarity about the proceedings here that’s as enjoyable as putting on a well broken-in pair of old blue jeans. The band is tight and the grooves they establish propel the tracks. Conte has a good rock n’ roll voice with just a hint of having gargled with a cocktail of razor blades and Wild Turkey, and he’s no slouch in the guitar department either. All the songs feature some nice lead work, and on “This Is the End” Conte crafts a solo that owes as much to the glam rock wailing of Mick Ronson as it does the atonal explorations of Kurt Cobain.

Gypsy Cab” is somewhat of a change of pace with a groove reminiscent of old surf tunes complete with tremolo guitar and a Beach Boys backbeat. “The Goods are Odd” begins a string of anthemic rockers including “Get Off”, “The Truth Ain’t Pretty” and “Her Highness”. This is really the heart of the album, and you get a good sense of Conte’s knack for writing hooks and catchy melodies. In a live context I would imagine that all these songs would be greeted with enthusiastic crowd participation, especially “The Truth Ain’t Pretty,” an obvious single, which, in a just world, would be climbing up the modern rock charts as you’re reading this.

The band rocks out on these tunes and as is the case throughout the album Conte intersperses the songs with tasteful lead guitar flourishes and solos. On “Her Highness” Conte lets it all hang out and shreds it up. ”Busload of Hope” a swampy blues, turns the intensity down a notch and grooves with a sultry vibe that’s pierced by the occasional slide guitar lick. Once again Conte’s guitar playing is featured prominently and he provides some credible bluesy lead work. Special mention needs to be made of his guitar playing on the penultimate song, “Indie Girl,” which finds the band shifting gears and exploring a groove with hints of a Latin samba beat. This track features some of Conte’s most melodic and emotional lead playing on the album. His playing here is not at all showoffy, but, as the best musical performances tend to do, it serves the song well and elevates it from a good song into a great song.

As a whole Steve Conte and the Crazy Truth delivers on its promise as a collection of songs that are representative of their genre. The band is tight and rocking, and Conte’s performance as both the singer and lead guitarist is exemplary. Nevertheless, although the record has all the elements you’d expect from a project like this, the production of it leaves a little to be desired. I’m not suggesting that the record should sound more like the latest Green Day album or that it needs to be given the full treatment of über-mixer Chris Lord-Alge, nor do I think it’s a bad mix which is at fault. All the instruments are clearly defined and occupy their own space within the mix, and you can even get a sense of the ambiance of the room in which the drums were recorded on some tracks, but there’s a certain sparkle or magic that seems to be missing, perhaps the presence of which would have lent the sound of the record a little more clarity , elevating it into that special place where classic albums reside.

(Nick Fokas)

Album Release Party

If you could blow the roof off of a basement club then that’s exactly what Steve and his band did performing a kick ass tight set at The Bowery Electric in New York City on Thursday night. It was the official launch party of Steve Conte and the Crazy Truth’s new CD available through iTunes and  Amazon.com Get a 4 song preview here: myspace.com/stevecontecrazytruth

Check out some of the action from their performance below:

photos: Paul Bachmann



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