Readers could be forgiven for not knowing Bruce Conte by name . . . but chances are many will have heard his work as guitarist for seminal funksters Tower Of Power. Bruce steps up front with "Bullet Proof," his third solo outing (an indie repackaged for release on Severn Records), but one listen'll tell you he hasn't left his 'day job' far behind.
"Bullet Proof" is chock full of the sound that made TOP famous; fewer horns, perhaps, but with the same supple urban grooves, equal parts soul, jazz, and funk, but with very little blues in the mix. Production is smooth, the piano is all electric . . . you get the picture. And while one might reasonably expect Bruce to cut loose with lots of guitar, in truth it's applied sparingly, generally in short bursts that work to good effect; nothing dazzling, but it's unfailingly well played and tasteful. Not a vocalist himself, Bruce has wisely chosen to turn those chores over to others, in the process inviting a whopping seven friends along for the ride; all are good, though there's nothing overly distinctive that makes one stand out from the bunch.
While there's much to like about "Bullet Proof," there is, again, almost no blues content. Song titles like "Chasin' The Blues" are misleading, in this case more of a lite-jazz ballad; elsewhere there's "Too Sad To Sing The Blues," a mid-temp funk-jazz workout with a positively bouncy chorus. Chick Willis' "Feel So Bad," one of the few tunes here with a true blues pedigree, is treated as another exercise in funk-lite, complete with burbling synth accompaniment. And "Snatch It Back And Hold It" is about as far from blues as anyone could take a Buddy Guy tune. The rest of the playlist, alas, is more of the same; all well done, all well produced, with convincing enough vocals and uniformly top-notch performances . . . but, to me anyway, it all seems to skim the surface, never really digging deep for emotional contact or commitment. In short, it's missing the very things that make the blues such a compelling art form.
Anyone who harbours fond memories of Tower Of Power's glory days might like this outing, as will those who like a bit of funk or vocals mixed in with their easy jazz. But blues fans expecting a banquet will be left very hungry indeed.
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