There was a time when hearing a boyish and manicured voice like Conner Cecil's alongside a willowy pedal steel wasn't uncommon in country music. That time is long gone, though, and hearing Conner — a Globe native whose voice matches his cherubic face — on his debut EP, Conner, is a little strange. In a genre where banjo accompaniment is now usually the dominion of guys with pockmarked faces and gravelly voices, or quirky songstresses, Conner is an odd duck.
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A former member of the University of Arizona's Symphonic Choir, Cecil has a traditionally beautiful voice that soars on songs like "Tear Down These Curtains" and "I Need You." Unfortunately, when he turns to topics traditional in country music — drinking, carousing, heartbreaking — like he does in "Dirtbags," it's about as convincing as country night on American Idol. "Juanita," the CD's closer, is a nice midpoint. A cover of Gram Parsons' song, it's got a little of everything Cecil does right (perfect hushed tones where appropriate, ability to soar for the refrains). And knowing Parsons wrote it, the references to gobbling down pills seem more appropriate.
With his sparkling voice and the ability to play piano and guitar, Cecil has the tools to have a career in music. But I worry that his influences (Parsons, George Jones, Alan Jackson, Hank Sr.) don't match his repertoire. Hopefully, he can find a sound that fits his style — perhaps traditional, piano-based love ballads, given that his press materials say he's classically trained. Cecil has opened for Phil Vassar (the Billy Joel of country), so he knows it can work in the right hands. It's either that, or Cecil goes Nashville and drops the country instruments, or takes up Marlboro Reds and starts drinking Jack Daniel's Black in the hopes of getting a little more grizzled.
You Asked for It is a weekly review of a local CD on our music blog, Up on the Sun: blogs.phoenixnewtimes.com/uponsun/you_asked_for_it