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All the Way with the Beefy Elf

My virtual date with singer/songwriter Don Conoscenti


I don’t think there’s a damn thing wrong with being wary when it comes to breaking a new singer/songwriter into your listening life. Maybe it’s just because I’m a band guy at heart and the communal aspect of the group process automatically puts a couple filters between me and the tender underside of any feelings the band or at least the lyricist are trying to share. But solo performers in the singer/songwriter vein do tend to play their “personal, introspective” cards a little girlier than do sweaty packs of rock dudes, and that naked outlay of emotion invites a more measured personal response.

My response to having singer/songwriters trustingly empty their feelings into my lap is generally to afford them the (occasionally unwarranted) courtesy of thinking it over a good long while before reciprocating with what I’m feelin’—which, if the artist has any real self-esteem, he or she will hopefully take to be a more genuine compliment than some facile “instantly connected” claptrap.

Plus, if taking an instant shine to a new band is comparable to lust or a crush or an infatuation, then making emotional friends with a new singer/songwriter—who, again, is more likely to stress the personal and introspective over the instantly gratifying—should be more like thinking about the long haul in a relationship. Does the way he sings about love make up for the way he sings “everything” like “ay-eh-vree-thin?” Does her eggplant parmigiana excuse the thing she does with the toothpaste? In short, if you’re not blinded by love, do you think the pros will outweigh the cons in the medium to long term of this relationship?

For the first song or two off Don Conoscenti's new CD (his eighth), Paradox of Grace, it kind of looked like Don and I would be venting our respective insecurities after one date at Sea World by belittling each other in front of the “Love Connection” studio audience—with Chuck Woolery abruptly re-crossing his legs and making the Zinger! face and everything. Even looking at the cover accoutrements—from the carefully composed “beefy elf” front cover shot to the rather immodest inclusion of an oil portrait of himself on the back cover—all signs pointed to me retiring early with two convenience store burritos and a couple of videos while Don blithely moved on to the gal who’d been eyeing him from the next table over at the coffeeshop where we agreed to meet. This after Don politely told me he was looking for someone “without so much baggage” when it came to singer/songwriters.

By the fourth song in, though—a sweetly honest ballad called “The Other Side”—something clicked. I started to appreciate Don’s corner on the singer/songwriter thing. I went back and listened to the first few songs over and I liked them better. The guitar and all the other instruments he plays, too—they rested easier on my mind. I decided that I would date him emotionally again if he asked me. And, as tentative and noncommittal as that might sound to you, for me and a strange singer/songwriter it’s like going all the way on the first date.

Don Conoscenti performs this Sunday at Wild Ground Learning Center, 8 PM. Wild Ground is located at 702 Brooks. Tickets are $10 at the door.

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