Have you ever had one of those occurrence in which you put a CD on the player and sit down with the booklet, then look at the player, convinced that somehow the wrong disc got in there? The introduction to Italia 3 makes references to “Italian roots music,” a “wide variety of cultures,” and “age-old musical traditions.”
OK — the first song that stuck out at me was Beppe Gambetta’s “Nova Gelosa/Serenata,” a generic ballad that could be from anywhere, and is not the strongest offering in the collection. Not a good start.
There are songs on this disc that sound, at first hearing, as though they could be from Spain (Franca Masu’s “Veu accorada,” Elena Leda’s “In trese“), or Ireland (Filippo Gambetta’s “Quattro danse” or La Moresca’s “Santa Paulu meu,” although the latter winds up with a strong Afro-Caribbean feel to it — an interesting combination), the Levant (Mario Salvi’s “Tarantella di Sannicandro“) or even Appalachia (Tre Martelli’s “Guarda la luna“).
Chalk it up to the fact that Italy has been, in its long history, not only a crossroads of cultures, but a crossroads, period, as well as a choice piece of real estate for whoever could hold on to it. Colonized at various times by Phoenicians, Iberian Celts, Greeks, Germans, Moors, Vikings, and Normans, invaded at one time or another by just about everyone, it’s no wonder that the musical traditions are somewhat of a mélange.
Italia 3 is one of those collections that features a number of performers showcasing contemporary popular/folk music. As such, it has its high points — the Sardinian music of Elena Ledda is compelling, as is the Catalan-derived song from Franca Masu — and some that need not be dragged out into the harsh glare of the day. Some of the more “modern” treatments are not very successful, while some, such as Saniele Sepe’s “N’auciello de li puverelli,” which is strongly in a “new age” mode, are more than a little appealing. It’s a broad range, and while very few are likely to enjoy every track, just about everyone is going to find something they like, and maybe a few pointers toward further listening (Leda and Masu are going on my list of performers to look out for.)
Regrettably, in the case of Putamayo’s compilation Italian Cafe, first impressions were borne out on second and third listenings: while there are one or two highlights, the collection as a whole is reminiscent of an early Fellini soundtrack without the saving grace of a Fellini movie to go with it. The CD cover claims that this collection “will transport you to the romantic cafes of Rome, Milan, and Venice.” Quite honestly, “Bella Notte” from Disney’s Lady and the Tramp did a better job in that regard.
Hands-down favorite is Maria Pierantoni Giua, a singer-songwriter from Rapallo. I’m not sure that the song included on this CD, “Petali e Mirto‘ (“Petals and Myrtle”) is one of her best efforts, but one can sense that there is a talent beyond the ordinary — I almost got hints of the legendary Piaf in some of her phrasing and the coloration of her voice. I wouldn’t object to hearing more of her music.
Gianmaria Testa has a delivery that does indeed recall Leonard Cohen, to whom he has been likened. “La Traietorrie delle Mongolfiere” (“The Trajectory of Hot-Air Ballons”) is one of those songs that reaches out and grabs the listener. Testa’s voice, somewhat husky and otherwise indefinable, is the perfect vehicle: a bit of melancholy, a bit of world-weariness, and something that is not quite cynicism, not quite hope.
Nothing really stands out, otherwise — jazz-inspired, sometimes veering close to pop-rock, fairly generic and pretty much unremarkable: somehow, I think actually being in an Italian café has got to be better than this.
(Putumayo Wolrd Music, 2005)