"Hard Times" by CON BRIO

Parallels to the past
There is perhaps no band whose name more accurately describes the sound that they produce than San Francisco funk/soul/rock group Con Brio. Generally used as a direction written by composers in parts of songs that they want musicians to play with extra vivacity and gusto, con brio means “with spirit” or “with vigor” in Italian. Anyone who has seen Con Brio perform live, like we were able to at High Sierra Music Festival, knows that this seven-piece powerhouse is certainly aptly named. “Hard Times,” off of their debut album Paradise, is a truly representative manifestation of what Con Brio is all about: the confluence of energy, passion, struggle, and the desire and motivation to overcome oppression. Lead singer Ziek McCarter, unquestionably born to be a frontman and ostensibly inspired by Michael Jackson and Marvin Gaye, sings of how tough and discouraging it can be to be oppressed by the powers that be, and the importance of coming together to unite against a common enemy, whatever it may be. 

McCarter’s vocals are stunning; he can go from the most delicate falsetto to the most gravelly, full-throated bellowing from one measure to the next, aided by his nimble bandmates. “Hard Times” is somewhat more rock-heavy than many of the band’s other songs, but they also mix in sections of gentle, minimalist funk rhythms, along with powerful, soulful stabs and flurries of saxophone and trumpet, laying out their versatile abilities and tastes. From a historical perspective, this track is very interesting, due to the dichotomous relationship between the chorus’ refrain “hard times,” and the refrain in disco/funk legend Chic’s 1979 “Good Times.” Perhaps unintentional, or perhaps both a nod to Chic’s influence on their music, and how times are no longer “good,” as the United States currently finds itself in the midst of troubling social and political turmoil (which the subject matter of Paradise heavily focuses on). Con Brio’s relevance in today’s world is palpable, where, no matter if you’re directly affected by the “hard times” or not, it is necessary for us to join hands and rise above together.