Yeah, this one’s going to be tough. I’ve been fortunate enough to become friends with Anthony Rosano and the merry band of misfits that make up his band, The Conqueroos. I had heard about them for several months before I had the chance to catch them at a festival where I was immediately struck by their high energy and their ability to work a crowd.
While they were obviously having a great deal of fun, what was more important to me was that they made sure the audience was having even more fun. I remember the stories of The Beatles when they were playing Hamburg and the audience shouting, “Mak Show!” They were being told to put on a show, not just stand behind their instruments.
That’s what these guys do, in their own way of course. For them, the phrase is, “Get Roo’d!” And let me tell you something, once you’ve experienced getting roo’d, you never forget the feeling.
I caught Rosano and Company recently at the 1st Annual RVA Brews and Blues Festival that was held under the sunniest of skies in the back parking lot of Steam Bell Beer Works, a local brewery. I was the emcee, and they were in the sweet spot of being just under the headliner, Albert Castiglia.
By the time they took the stage, much of the audience was tired from the length of the show, the heat, and the effects of some wonderful adult beverages. Within the first couple of songs, all that was forgotten and the audience was up on its collective feet, dancing, and having an amazing time.
Rosano has been teasing this new album for months. The whole group – that is Rosano and his multitude of guitars; Paul Warren and his “Funk Box,” aka bass; Scott Smith and his drums; and Jeremy “JB: Bustillos with his sax and collection of harmonicas – were heading to New Orleans to work with producer/guitarist extraordinaire Mike Zito.
Zito has plenty of high profile friends and a few of them stopped by to lend a hand. Joining Rosano were Zito himself adding guitar on six songs and backing vocals on three; Anders Osborne playing slide guitar on one song; Johnny Sansone played accordion on one number; and Michael Harvey played fiddle on one song.
Normally I would listen to the album before writing a review, but in the sense of total impartiality and fairness, what has been written below are my initial thoughts as I hear the self-titled album for the very first time.
The album starts off with a very raucous number, 28 Days. Guitars and harps set the stage and Rosano’s vocals kick it up a notch. Those 28 Day “vacations” are getting more widespread and it’s interesting to me to hear it worked into a kick ass party song. Listen for the guitar breaks as Rosano and Zito have fun challenging each other to a higher performance level.
The band follows up with Give Me Strength. The song has a swinging beat and it gives Rosano a chance to utilize his vocals more. It’s a fun number that works well on the audience. All of these songs are designed for live performance, and not just as a static stand-alone song that only gets played on your CD player. That may sound like an obvious thing to say, but once you catch these guys you can hear it in their playing that they want to be on that stage cutting loose.
The only song on the album not written by Rosano is You Don’t Know Me, written by Scott Smith. It’s funky and definitely driven by the rhythm section. Smith and Warren form a formidable rhythm section and that allows Bustillo’s harp work to soar and Rosano’s guitar to attack the song. Very cool number, and I would like to hear more of Smith’s songwriting.
Next up is the autobiographical Long Island Sound. Rosano is originally from New York and he brings that upbringing with him and it shows in his music. This is a real break in the album, a gentle song with acoustic guitar and accordion opening the number. The song paints a picture of innocence and trying to bust out of that into adulthood, then looking back at it years later to discover the joy was in the innocence. Lovely song.
The Conqueroos pick up the pace on Wicked Grin, and it sounds like Rosano is playing one of his cigar box guitars for part of the song. This is a fun, hard-driving number; something that definitely signals that there’s a party going on, and it’s going on right here!
Next, they up the funk factor with the opening of Revolve. But they pull a switch and change the emphasis, turning it more into a rock oriented number. It’s hard to put a label on this one, the sound is different but the lyrics are very strong. Bustillo’s sax work is among the best on the album thus far.
The band launches into a little soul for Love Got A Hold On Me, using the sax for emphasis in the opening. Rosano’s vocals are very good and the song builds nicely. I think this one could get some decent airplay and help the band find some new fans.
Shaken In The Veins kicks off with some high energy picking. But don’t let that fool you, make sure you listen to the lyrics. It has some dark poetry that will make you shake your head. Bustillo once again plays some very cool harp – I don’t think I’m too far off the mark to say that he’s one of the best that you’ve never heard of, for now.
Some old-school blues is next with Bound To You. Some stellar guitar work opens the song and the vocals are deep and emotional. It’s not a hard-driving song or a hold your partner close song, it’s primarily a good singer opening himself up in the most vulnerable way possible.
Blackbird opens whisper soft and slowly builds. The guitar work is excellent and it sounds like something that could have sung by any of the Delta Masters. Then it goes electric and the song has an infusion of power. I like the juxtaposition.
The album ends with some New Orleans style sounds, Proud Of My Sins. This is a very cool song, and a great way to end the album. And it articulates a philosophy that I dearly wish I could embrace. Great song, and you now that this one and several others will be appearing on Time For The Blues.
There’s a reason why I have become a fan of Anthony Rosano And The Conqueroos. It’s simple, they are that damn good. I fully believe the band is just a heartbeat away from being the next big thing. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen anyone disappointed at one of their shows, and they have become the go-to band to open up for any major star that comes through this part of the world.
The album drops April 11, 2017. You can preorder it at their website https://www.conqueroos.com/ as well as sample the songs from it. Give it a listen, and if you think as highly of what you hear as I do, get yourself a copy and anything else they’ve done. And catch ‘em live, you know you want to Get Roo’d!
(Photo of Anthony Rosano by Alan Grossman, photographer to the stars. Check out his work on his Facebook page sometime and you'll see the work of an amazing artist. Used by permission.)