Don Conoscenti,
Extremely Live at Eddie's Attic
(Desert Muse, 2002)

Colorado-based singer-songwriter Don Conoscenti has taken his act on the road to Eddie's Attic, Atlanta's famous music venue. While the Chicago native now resides in Alamosa, Colo., he spent 10 years in Atlanta, some of them honing his musical skills at Eddie's Attic, the same place where performers such as the Indigo Girls and Shawn Mullins have also grown and sharpened their performing teeth. Last December, Conoscenti returned to Atlanta for two live shows, highlights of which appear on this 20-track CD, Extremely Live at Eddie's Attic.

The CD opens with "What Else Could I Do?," a new song inspired by the couple of days the previous summer he'd spent living in a tipi in Oklahoma and reading a biography of Crazy Horse. In his introduction, he readily acknowledges that the song goes beyond the life of Crazy Horse; his narrator is an old man who admits his faults to his grandchildren, confessing that he signed treaties and betrayed his people while asking the rhetorical question "what else could I do?" In turn, he asks the grandchildren, "If the lives of all your people were in your hands/what wouldn't you do?" The metaphor works well against his solo acoustic guitar. No other instruments are needed; Conoscenti, with one acoustic guitar, can create mood and setting the way an author uses words; audience members sitting in Atlanta that night must have visualized the American West in front of their very eyes.

Conoscenti's guitar playing already is the stuff of legend. Listening to the album, it's sometimes hard to believe that there is only one guitarist creating all of that sound, whether he's on a 6-string, 12-string or steel guitar. (The drawn-out notes of the steel guitar add to the overall atmosphere of love and hope on "The Other Side.") The talent isn't just limited to guitar; when he switches to banjo, as on his tribute to Colorado's San Luis Valley, "Beautiful Valley," it feels like magic as he uses that instrument to create the "mysterious light" of that arid region.

Instrumental music and voice, however, do not represent the entire CD. Occasionally, there is a several-minute-long introduction to a song that helps add to the disc's overall character while establishing Conoscenti as a consummate performer. Track 11, "Pulled Myself Over," is merely a story about Conoscenti and his dashboard, how he now drives a mini-van and notes that fact in itself helps him avoid being pulled over for his "unusual" dashboard. (Adding a "my child is an honor roll student" bumper sticker he found in Ann Arbor hasn't hurt either. "They're coming from behind, and then they see that. Their attention shifts elsewhere, fortunately, before they come next to me and see my dashboard," he says to the audience's amusement.) The dashboard contains bits and pieces he's found in the desert, including "bones and skulls and feathers and wings."

In the CD notes, Conoscenti states, "I played two nights in my favorite club and unbeknownst to me, the night was informally recorded." The sound, indeed, is informal. There isn't any apparent effort to play to the tape recorders. While a planned live album might have more polish, this one is raw and energetic, capturing the artist spontaneously. Just like Conoscenti's dashboard filled with finds from his travels in the desert, this live CD pulls together all of the various aspects of his live performance in an eclectic, inviting manner.

[ by Ellen Rawson ]
Rambles: 10 August 2002

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