Saturday, 12 October 2013

BLUE CHICKS ON THE CHESSBOARD

Panna Fredda were an Italian prog band from Rome, one of the many one-shot bands of the early seventies Italian prog scene. The line-up on their first (and last) album, released in 1971, featured Carlo Bruno (bass), Giorgio Brandi (keyboards, guitars), Filippo Carnevale (drums, guitar) and composer and lyricist Angelo Giardinelli (vocals, guitar, drums). They started their career playing melodic “beat songs”, but after releasing some singles they changed musical direction and managed to shape a very interesting mix of Italian melody, prog rock and classical influences. Although this work was high quality, their label, Vedette, didn’t rate them very highly, so Panna Fredda disbanded even before the album was released. After the experience with Panna Fredda keyboardist Giorgio Brandi returned to a more commercial style and joined a successful melodic pop band called I Cugini di Campagna (who are usually considered the antithesis of prog!) while the other members were not so lucky and gave up. What a pity!


The dark opener “La paura” (Fear) might slightly recall Uriah Heep. It develops from a haunting marching beat and features a good organ solo. The lyrics describe the fear provoked by the cold shadows of the dead gathering around you and give you a warning: when you understand that fear, death will be inside you. Almost an omen...

The second track “Un re senza reame” (A King Without A Throne) is about the absurdity of power and war... “Soundless bells asking for mercy / Smell of candles and dead flowers now / The night will bring visions of terror / To a king without a kingdom / To a king who will cry...”. The music features an acoustic interlude and more frenzied parts. It could recall some works of Le Orme.


Next comes “Un uomo” (A Man) that starts like the soundtrack of a “Spaghetti western” and sounds like a kind of “Ennio Morricone meets Le Orme and PFM”. It’s about a duel between love and hate and the lyrics tell the story of a man who killed for love but was condemned by people who didn’t understand him.

Scacco al re Lot” (Checkmate For King Lot) is my favourite track on the album. It’s a kind of mini suite featuring a dark first part where the lyrics describe Death who never tires of hunting for new prey riding a black stallion, the Grim Reaper playing checks with his enemy, Life... More melodic and acoustic passages follow, where people cry for the death of their good king Lot and hope for another good king like Lot (you can recognize here even a hint of the Italian national anthem). Hope leads to a solemn finale... “The great wizard is hidden / Beyond the world, above time...”.


The long, complex “Il vento, la luna e pulcini blu (sole rosso)” features interesting harpsichord work and baroque passages that alternate with psychedelic atmospheres but in my opinion it is not at the same level of the previous track. The lyrics describe a wonderful wood, children playing with the wind, the moon and little blue chicks, a white church, a red sun upon the altar... Unreal visions that seem to melt against reality... “Now I’m listening to the sounds that my mind refuses / My blood will burn what is left of me...”.

The last track “Waiting” is a good short instrumental with guitar and keyboards in the forefront. On the Vinyl Magic CD re-release you can find as bonus tracks two early songs of the band, “Delirio” (Delirium) and “Strisce rosse” (Red Stripes). Although they’re quite weak, comparing them with the other tracks you can see how Panna Fredda’s style evolved. 


You can listen in streaming to the complete album HERE
 
 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

THE FLIGHT OF THE MOSQUITO

Il Volo was a kind of supergroup based in Milan that was formed in 1974 and in the same year released an eponymous début album. All the members of the band were experienced musicians who had previously militated in other bands and collaborated with other artists: Alberto Radius (guitar, vocals) and Gabriele Lorenzi (keyboards, organ, moog, harpsichord) came from Formula 3, Mario Lavezzi (guitars, mandolin, vocals) from Flora Fauna e Cemento and I Camaleonti, Bob Callero (bass – credited on the album under the nickname “Olov”) from Osage Tribe and Duello Madre, Gianni Dall’Aglio (drums) from I Ribelli and Vince Tempera (piano, keyboards) from Pleasure Machine. Years of hard work as session men and as members of other bands had resulted in considerable musicianship and experience but the problem here, in my opinion, is the lack of originality in the song-writing that appears in debt with some of Lucio Battisti's albums of the same period.


However, even if it doesn't shine for its originality, the music is really good and the opener “Come una zanzara” (Like a mosquito) is very promising. It begins with an instrumental intro that lasts more than two minutes and that features a good bass work and an evocative, mysterious atmosphere, then vocals come in... “Like a mosquito in Africa / Me too, I'm lost among millions, nay milliards, of people... Why am I a man?...”. The rhythm section is powerful, all along the album you can appreciate a good interaction between keyboards and guitars. The music flows steadily, track after track, there are some acoustic and melodic moments, some blues and jazz influences. There are no outstanding tracks but the average quality is really good. Unfortunately the lyrics, in my opinion, are rather uninspired.

Vince Tempera - Alberto Radius - Bob Callero

To be honest, here every now and again lyricist Mogol seems to have picked the words almost at random, for their sound rather than for their meaning and you need a lot of imagination to appreciate and comprehend them... Anyway, “La mia rivoluzione” (My revolution) is about the need to believe in your own goals, “Il calore umano” (The human heat) depicts a man in a cave near a bonfire and evokes the strange human heat that you can feel when living in a community, “Il canto della preistoria” (The song of the prehistory) describes in a surreal way the symbiosis between man and nature, “I primi respiri” (First breaths) evokes a difficult relationship depicting an armour that risks to suffocate the man who wears it, “La canzone del nostro tempo” (The song of our time) deals in some way with environmental issues... “It's hard to plough the motorways / Killed hopes are not fertilizer for new businesses...”. Then “Sonno” (Sleep) depicts a feeling of selfishness that feeds a moral and physical sense of boredom while the conclusive “Sinfonia delle scarpe da tennis” (The symphony of the tennis shoes) depicts a pair of sneakers as a metaphor for freedom.

Mario Lavezzi - Gianni Dall'Aglio - Gabriele Lorenzi

On the whole, this album could have been a good “conceptual work”, the music is well performed and there are some recurrent themes (for instance, at the end of the second and of the third track there are little reprises of “Come una zanzara” played by the guitar), but at length “Battisti’s shadow” is overwhelming and the band seem to suffer from a kind of “crisis of identity”. A good album, but not an essential one.

You can listen to the complete album in streaming HERE

Il Volo: Il Volo (1975). Other opinions.
Jim Russell: This is an easy to digest work for anyone. Aside from the Italian language singing, this album is more conventional prog than others in the genre. Nice melodies, laid back vocals, smooth electric guitar solos, some acoustic guitars, and less weird keyboard... Unlike some of the more complex Italian albums, Il Volo may be a good starting point for newbies to the genre. If you're looking for one to try out that isn't too weird or wild, this album will deliver a solid rock experience and give you a little taste of the Italian scene... (read the complete review HERE)


Wednesday, 2 October 2013

DREAMING OF POWER

Layra were formed in Rome in 2005, influenced by Pink Floyd, Dream Theater, Marillion, Porcupine Tree and Italian melody. Their début album, titled “Chiaroscuro”, was self-released in 2008 and, according to the band, all the songs have a common thread: the alternation of shadows and light. Despite the ambitious concept, I think that this is a still immature work featuring straightforward pieces of melodic rock veined by mild progressive influences. The potential of the musicians and their song-writing skills here are still unexpressed and they almost seem to look for a boldness that never comes as in “Un'altra luna” (a track inspired by the life of painter Vincent Van Gogh), “Nessun destino” (inspired by the film Donnie Darko) or “Il grande imbroglio” (inspired by what happened in New York on September 11, 2001). Of course, you can find here some good ideas that every now and again shine like lights in the dark but it's not enough and, on the whole, this album fails to strike a chord on me. Anyway, they will do better in the future!


In 2009 the band began to work on a new album with a line up featuring Massimiliano Ganci (bass), Fabio Vitale (guitars), Moreno Sangermano (vocals), Alessandro Aversano (drums) and Matteo Ferretti (keyboards) plus some guests: Stefano Renzi (flute), Stefano Sangermano (vocals) and Chiara Mercatali (vocals). The result of their efforts is a complex concept album, “Crono”, that was self-released in 2011, after three years of hard work. It's a great improvement if compared with Layra's previous work, the overall sound is very rich and varied while all the tracks are linked together as the chapters of a book and flow away as if in a long suite as the storyline unfolds. There are aggressive guitar riffs and dreamy piano passages, delicate melodies and nervous rhythms. The extended liner notes that you can find in the booklet help to understand the plot and are complementary to the music and lyrics. According to the band, Crono is based on a delirium: the obsessive attempt to understand the real border between free will and destiny. From the smallest daily action to the greatest decision at the international level, everything is decided by a balance between neurons... Well, literary works such as Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, La nuit des temps by René Barjavel or Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell could come to your mind.


The instrumental opener “Lumen et Umbra” sets the atmosphere. You can hear a sound of paces but you can't see anything. The protagonist of the story lies in a dark cell waiting for his execution. His name is Aryal and he's not sad, he's in peace with his conscience. Then old memories come back to him... The following “Ritmi d’inattività” (Rhythms of inactivity) takes us in the past, when Aryal was a successful man who worked in a TV chain. He was able to influence people, he could manipulate their choices thanks to the power of media but he was still unaware of being just a pawn in a greater game... “It's so easy to take away the dreams from destiny... They will never know the secret of flying without wings and never fall down...”. Next comes “Perla - Parte I” (Pearl – Part I) a romantic, dreamy piece that describes the meeting between the protagonist and his fiancée Felithia and their relationship... “It's not the end of the world trusting a dream / And look at it in the eyes...”.




Entropia” (Entropy) marks a change in atmosphere. The mood is dark while the music and lyrics describe a tense dialogue between Kimins, a scientist in charge of secret project to control chaos, and Aryal. The protagonist finds out that he's nothing but a kind of guinea pig in this ambitious project called Crono and that his choices are just illusions since his genes have been programmed to follow a predetermined path. Aryal is shocked, his world crumbles and the following track, “Crono”, describes this sense of loss. Aryal feels empty, now he realizes that people walk around the world like spectres, like blind pawns in a game that just a few ones play... “They wait that time passes by / They sleep, hope... They will buy all they dreams and will sell their souls...”. Then tension rises on “Thanatos” that describes Aryal's tentative to commit suicide... “I think I hate the world / I continually curse life / I shout up my rage to the sky / Demon, take back your altar...”. Before the protagonist can jump down from a high building he's saved by his sweetheart Felithia and the short, touching ballad “Perla - Parte II” depicts this moment where the power of love prevail upon discouragement.


The beautiful instrumental “La fuga” (The escape) describes Aryal's decision to run away from his city with his woman. But his desire to find out more about the secret project is burning. On his old PC he discovers some hidden files and he can reach Crono's project headquarters. They lie under Antarctica's surface and the following “Quello che il sole non illumina” (What the sun can't lighten) depicts Aryal's arrival in the secret place... “It's a buried city / The Man's grave / The biggest cheat / This is the hidden city, the lost city / This is what the sun can't lighten... These are our shadows that are waiting for their death...”. Here Aryal meets Kimins again and kills him. The conclusive “Somnium Dei” takes us back to present and to Aryal's dark cell. It's a long, complex track divided into five parts that describes the last moments of Aryal's life, the last experiments on his body and mind and his last reflections before dying... “They dig inside my mind / They look for the source of thought / They will delete all the choices in the name of a faceless God...”. Well, on the whole an interesting concept and a very good album!

You can read an interview with the band HERE

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