deft musical cross-pollination

River of Madness (D'ville Record Group)
Steve Conn

By Allen Howie

While hanging out in the hospital with our new daughter last August, my wife and I couldn't help reflecting on how much our lives had changed from the time, just a year before, when we had been unwinding in New Orleans. Shortly thereafter, the mail brought a copy of Steve Conn's new release, River of Madness, and for the ensuing forty-two minutes, I found myself back on the banks of the Mississippi, catching my breath in the heart of the French Quarter.

Although the disc is shot through with Cajun rhythms, the songs display a depth and breadth not often found on "regional" releases. This may be due in part to the presence of guitarist Sonny Landreth mixing it up on electric and acoustic, as well as guest vocals on two numbers by Tommy Malone and John Magnie of critical favorites the subdudes.

But the lion's share of the credit rests with Conn himself. With a warm, wonderful voice that recalls Paul Brady and Art Neville, and a deft instrumental touch on organ, accordion and keyboards, Conn brings solid musicianship to bear on the ten numbers included here. He also wrote all of the material, weaving catchy melodies with intoxicating rhythms in the same spirit of musical cross-pollination that made the delta a fertile musical breeding ground.

Awash in Conn's glowing production (this guy really does it all), the record leans from the nimble piano of "Mardi Gras Morning" to the sweetly soulful "Midnight on the Delta," and from the moody title track to the zydeco tilt of "Good Intentions." But while River of Madnessis loaded with great dance tunes, its heart is in the slower numbers, particularly "Morning Light" and the melancholy Civil War lament, "In an Angel's Arms." The latter track alone is worth the price of admission, its sad elegance providing a beautiful coda to a finely-crafted album.