Steve Conn: Louisiana-Bred Soul, Powerful Songwriting
On Beautiful Dream, his most personal and fully realized album in a career full of musical accomplishments, singer, songwriter, and keyboardist Steve Conn puzzles out life's changes with searching intensity and grace. Backed by a stellar group of musicians including fellow Louisiana greats Sonny Landreth on slide guitar and Doug Belote on drums, Conn delivers ten new original songs that map life's emotional territory as few songwriters can.
Conn, who has performed on nine Grammy-nominated albums and was named a New Folk Finalist at the Kerrville Folk Festival, co-produced Beautiful Dream with Richard McLaurin. The songs were recorded on 2-inch tape at House of David, a small gem of a studio in Conn's adopted town of Nashville that's hosted the likes of Justin Townes Earle, Norah Jones, and Neil Young. "We wanted to get the spontaneity of the old days by recording to tape," Conn says, "because you have to bring your A game. It changes the way you play. You get the moment, and that is so much of what these songs are about, my lifelong effort to live in this moment."
Conn's artistic accolades and partnerships read like a who's who of blues, roots, and Americana music. He grew up in Pineville, Louisiana, the son of "Peanut" Conn, recognized by Melody Maker as one of the best swing violinists in the South, and studied literature at Louisiana State University. Though he moved on to Boulder, Colorado, Los Angeles, and ultimately Nashville, "Louisiana influences me on every level, food, music, culture, vibe, oak trees, writing, New Orleans, Acadiana, gumbo, Professor Longhair, Clifton Chenier, funk, Tennessee Williams, Walker Percy, cypress trees, slow-moving water . . . it's magical. It has a sense of place like no other," Conn says.
After working for many years with his own bands and myriad musical legends (Bonnie Raitt, Mark Knopfler, and the Dixie Chicks, to name a few), Conn became the founding musical director for National Public Radio variety show eTown in the early 1990s. There he worked with guest stars James Taylor, Shawn Colvin, David Wilcox, and many others. In Nashville, Conn earned kudos as a songwriter with his critically acclaimed albumsRiver of Madness and Steve Conn; Bonnie Bramlett of the legendary duo Delaney and Bonnie recorded Conn's "Beautiful" as the title song of her most recent album. "The truth is that Conn is one of this city's most complete artists, armed with potent, poetic songs, a soul-saturated voice and a keen sense of groove," wrote Craig Havighurst in The Tennessean.
The exquisitely crafted songs of Beautiful Dream view the title's optimistic premise from every angle, with Conn's trademark razor's-edge honesty; some dreams evaporate in the inevitability of change, while others live in the sweetness of a rainy Southern spring day or the exultation of just not caring for a moment. The rocking finality of "It Is What It Is" challenges the beautiful dream of the title song, while the stunningly elegant and lyrical "Easier Said Than Done" tenderly questions our assumption that we could have done better at any point along the way. But "Let The Rain Fall Down," a gorgeous, gospel-tinged homage to nature and love, reminds us that the beautiful dream is always resilient, and always returns.
Calling the music his most introspective work yet, Conn acknowledges that the album-which he began recording on May 2, 2010, the day the devastating Nashville flood started-isn't party music. "I'm writing for people who have lost at love but know that love is still the greatest force of all," Conn says. "I'm writing for people who are trying to find the best in themselves and in the world, people who continue to get up and try again, over and over, because they know on some deep and ancient level that it's all just a beautiful dream, even when it seems like a damn nightmare."
Integrity marks every detail of Beautiful Dream. The CD package features photography by Jack Spencer, known for his profoundly moving images of the South, and graphic design by Megan Barra, a Louisiana artist whose album design for Landreth's Levee Townwas nominated for a Grammy. "These artists get it," Conn says. "Their artistry is deep and simple and dignified and mysterious."
The same could be said of Steve Conn and his beautiful dream.