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Reviews Oct - Dec 2010

 

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De toi à moi (2010) - ♪♪♪
Adamo (Belgium)

If one Belgian artists survived the passing of time, it's Salvatore Adamo. Once considered a relic of French teenage pop, the new age restored his words - and music - as the poet of humble people. Artists like Arno, Olivia Ruiz and others turned to Adamo for his still very powerful voice and his musicality. ‘From you to me’ is a tribute from those artists to Adamo which they help out with lyrics, music or friendly duets. It makes some surprising songs like ‘La boîte à souvenirs’ backed by a Yankee brass band or the opera-pastiche ‘Pourquoi tu chantes’ when soprano Anne-Catherine Gillet turns up for a classical note. Of course Salvatore stays the dandy womanizer on songs like ‘Un Jour sans toi’ and his ode to woman in general called ‘La beauté des femmes’: “Who knows why / there are days when life / Slips between our fingers / Like raindrops / Like a leaf in the wind / It is carried away / Everything seems foreign / And the beauty of women / suspended in time / To their heavenly grace / Illuminates the street”. Sometimes the album gets a bit to nostalgic like the duet with Christophe called ‘Jours de Lumière’. Allegedly the singer demanded a duet after he failed to join in on the Adamo-tribute a few years back. Is it all sweetness and hunky dory on this album. No, on the closing track ‘Alice’ Salvatore also shows he has an opinion. On his sixties song ‘Inch Allah’ he showed an early vision on the problems in the Middle East, this time he displays his opinion on human rights in dictatorial regimes like in China or Iran: ” As the Chinese saying / And no doubt the Persian / There is no law / To reverse a song”. Ah yes, the power of music. If there is one chansonnier who still understands that it is Salvatore Adamo. His music is his gift from him to us. 

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A katona imája (2010) - ♪♪♪♪
Ákos (Hungary)

Four years after his last regular album Ákos Kovács returns with ’A soldier’s tale’ featering 13 new songs and a DVD as an extra (with video footage from the rehearsels and the clip for the single ’Szinbad szala’). To start with that single, it seems Ákos took a turn to the more alternative rock. Should we be worried? Where is the eclectic electronic grandeur that can be found on ’Még közelebb’? Indeed, tracks like ‘Játékharc’, ’Tabula Rasa’, ’Szeress Igy’ and the single are strictly guitar and drum driven. Made for concerts in big venues. But luckily fans of the more grand gestured Ákos also get their fair share. Six of the 13 songs are recorded with the Hungarian Studio Orchestra including the opening track and title song. The soldier’s prayer is dramatic sigh of a military man desperately seeking a way to clean his soul: „Said the promise / Everyone is putting a strain / The judgments / There are no exceptions / Been persecuted / And I was, who was chased by his faith unto death My God, have mercy on me a sinner!”.

A strong dramatic song which continues in the much more intimate ballad where the soldier even sinks deeper into his inner distress: „All dreams come to an end / Staring at the wounded black sky / The bond breaks through the dark blood / I should have to turn back now”. With these two strong tracks in mind we think we’re dealing with the Hungarian thematic answer to Pink Floyd’s ’Final cut’ when we bump to the downside of the album when the single kicks in. As a single it’s OK but it breaks abruptly the flow of the album. A flow that takes untill ’Óda’ to continue in an ode to Hungary or which country the soldier serves: „This is an ode to her / In the eternal present time / This is an ode to you / You're the most beautiful country”.  More pearls follow but again two rock-stompers break the beauty. It is not that we blame Ákos to be to innovative , on ’ Nézz szembe vele’ he even mixes hiphop easily with his own style, it is the other way round. Although at least half the album is of high quality it is those four MOR rock songs that disappoint a bit. But we’ll be honest ’ A katona imája’ is absolutely one of the better Europop releases this fall and well earned four stars, we just liked ’Még közelebb’ better. .

 

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Hypernuit (2010) - ♪♪♪
Bertrand Belin (France)

With a title like that (hypernight) you’ll expect either an extreme party album or a very dark somber album. In fact, musically, there is nothing hyper about the nocturnal mood Bertrand paints on his third album. Swooning on his voice you’ll get pictures of a clear full moon admiring itself in the dark waters of the sea, of glowing shadows when the water hits the glistening beach. But don’t be mistaken, Belin does lay a creeping unsettlement in his songs. Like in the title song when he sings “It surrounds the house / hypernuit / that calls the beast / evil grows / one that drank the milk / even worse / remembers yesterday”. Mostly recorded with a small combo (Tatiana Mladenovitch on drums and Thibault Frisoni on guitar, bass and piano) Bertrand explains that the lyrics have been mostly improvised at the microphone during recording. Very consciously , he wanted "songs that you can see the contours of and remain at the surface of things without getting caught up in the maze , so beautiful they are unconscious." The small setting and the way they approached the songs reminds somehow of an ancient storyteller that sits by the fireplace telling stories. Like on ‘Vertigo Horizontal’ he takes the listener “Outside / is all in white / everything is made of cold / silence here / walking by / not a beast not a breath of wind / that would greet the passer”. The lyrics are simple and sometimes repetitive but that adds to the seemingly simple eleven songs. With a timbre that somehow reminds of colleague Miossec Belin takes you on a midnight trip. He catches in music the moment when you come home after a night on the town and you relax just for a few more moments before you go to bed. The ‘hypernuit’ is the intimate moment between being awake and a dream, caught in music and song on this album.

 

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Dromen durven delen(2010) - ♪♪♪♪
Marco Borsato (Netherlands)

It’s a fact that bad times do wonders for artistic inspiration. For popular Dutch singer Marco Borsato and his songwriter companion John Ewbank it was a year the both of them rather forget. Borsato’s production company TEG went bankrupt which led to a court orders and the usual mud flinging in the media against his persona. Meanwhile Ewbank’s marriage ended. All this gave enough inspiration for an album that is in fact the most balanced the duo delivered since their cooperation started years ago. Opening track ‘Dichtbij’ is a good example of this balance with a synth-line being caught by the chorus and an orchestra that gradually comes in. The orchestral blockade in your speakers that was the signature of Ewbank has been brought back to what it’s supposed to be, complimentary to the song. Borsato’s voice get’s enough room and for the first time they do not try to cramp as much instruments in one song as possible. We already mentioned ‘Dichtbij’ but ‘Als Rennen Geen Zin Meer Heeft’, ‘Zwart En Wit’en ‘Niemand Weet’. But not every tune has this improvement. ‘Vrij’ falls into old habits with a dumb beat and a gruesome rap intermezzo by rapper ‘Lange Frans’. Another miss is Christmas single ‘Kerstmis’ recorded as theme song for the movie ‘Het Geheim’. As a single it may not be so bad but the whole atmosphere of the album differs so much from this track that it doesn’t add the value. Luckily Borsato rearranges himself with a cover of Di Notte from Italian singer/songwriter Pierdavida Carone (called ‘Het Donker’). Dare to share dreams is what Marco tries to say to us. And with this album Borsato/Ewbak outdid themselves and give a convincing example of that motto. Although maybe a bit to sweet for some Borsato and Ewbanks latest can measured with other European artists like Sanz and Cocciante.

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Le condamné à mort (2010) - ♪♪♪♪
Etienne Daho & Jeanne Moreau (France)

A collaboration between the grand lady of French cinema and one of the most popular singers of France… that must mean we have something really special and exiting here!

For many years now, the song ‘Sur mon cou’ (‘Upon my neck’) - a part of a poem by Jean Genet, put to music by Hélène Martin - has been part of Etienne Daho's repertoire. A few years ago, Jeanne Moreau and Etienne Daho met back stage after one of his Olympia concerts. They agreed to record an album with the complete poem by Jean Genet. 2010 is the year of his 100rd birthday and is a great occasion for this homage. Moreau and Daho performed this work live on stage in the Odéon Theater in Paris in last November.

Genet (December 19, 1910 – April 15, 1986) wrote the long poem ‘Le condamné à mort’ (‘Sentenced to death’) during his imprisonment in the Fresnes prison. It tells the story of the young Maurice Pilorge, who was imprisoned and condemned to death for murdering his lover. In 1939, at the age of 25, he was beheaded in Rennes, France. This dramatic gay love story must have fascinated cult poet Jean Genet, who also had a history of thievery and prostitution and later become widely known for his raw and explicit gay lyrics. (Story has it that Jean Genet inspired David Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie’.)

During her long career, Jeanne Moreau frequently hang out with Genet and they were quite close at that time. She also performed his work on screen, but he hated the work, as she recalls. Apparently, he could not stand anyone touching his work and Moreau claims that he would ‘surely have shouted at her’, should he be here to listen to the album.

Although Jean Genet probably would have hated it, the result of the collaboration between Moreau and Daho is enchanting. Genets poem is very expressive and colourful and even today one can only imagine what people must have thought about the explicit content back in 1942. (The following lines were copied from the complete translation in English by Mark Spitzer, published on http://www.sptzr.net/Translations/prisoner.htm)

“Tonight, golden child, don't sing ‘Lunar Studs’ / be instead a sad princess in a tower dreaming / of our poor love - or the blond cabin-boy / watching from the main mast.
And descend toward evening to sing on the deck / the Ave Maris Stella among the sailors / bald and kneeling, already holding / their leaping dicks in roguish hands.
To screw you, handsome adventurous cabin-boy / as the muscular sailors get hard beneath their pants / my love, my love, will you steal the keys / which will open for me the sky of trembling masts?”

Jeanne Moreau reads the lyrics between the songs, all singing is done by Etienne Daho. And both do what they are best at. Jeanne’s dark and smoky voice reading parts of the lyrics match perfectly with Etienne’s sophisticated, sultry singing voice. Together, they create exactly the right atmosphere, mystical and pure, filled with raw passion and desire.

One of the best parts of the album is the already classic interprattion of ‘Sur mon cou’ (‘Upon my neck’), with the following beautiful lyrics:

“The sky may awake, the stars may flourish / the flowers may sigh, and in the meadows / the black grass may welcome the dew / where morning comes to drink / the bell may toll: I alone am going to die.
Oh come my rose sky, oh come my blond basket! / Visit your prisoner condemned in the night / rip into flesh, kill, climb, bite / but come! Place your cheek against my round head.”

 

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Wir sind Deine Jugend (2010) - ♪♪♪
Deine Jugend (Germany)

If the debutalbum from German Electro-Pop-Punk-Band Deine Jugend is a hint for things to come in 2011 we may conclude that the Eighties-revival wave is about to end. With Laura Carbone and Tim Bonassis it’s back to 1994. Remember Republica’s ’Ready to go’ and Senser’s ’Age of panic’ from that year? Mix that with Berlin anarcho-techno act EC8OR from the same era and you probably come close to Deine Jugend. From opener ’Deine Jugend’ to closer ’Panik’ the album is a rollercoaster ride with staccato vocals and a pumping techno wall. Carbone and Bonassis met each other on Myspace and together with D. Havana (a.o. know for his work with Italian dancedj Gigi d’ agostino) they recorded the EP ’Deine Maske’. The routine of minimalistic sound and decadent and saucy lyrics is present on the entire album. It’s the nihilistic vibe of the Nineties clublife that wanders through the music: “We are together because / I go away alone / Towards the exit and I think I've noticed so slow / this here is simply nothing” (Kleiner Schritt). It’s the time when wearing ‘Sonnenbrille im club’ was way cool. It’s all about teenage bravura and an attitude to take on the world: “You stare at me, I look back / but is okay. / Test your locker, do not stand around / Come, let us go dancing / I think I'll take you today / them in my house / Your face is red, is well with you / Boy, let it all out!”. It’s a simple message on single ‘Mama geht jetzt steil’ to get on your feet and do something. And do it fast. The pumping urgency in which ‘Deine Jugend’ flings itself into the world can also be a bit tiring. The album has some rare tracks when they kick back a little. ‘Deine Maske’, ‘Keine Schritt’ and ‘Alles zerbricht’ give the listener some breath before the TGV-ride starts up again. ‚’Wir sind Deine Jugend’ is calling card originating from youthfull energy. The challenge for the band is if they can keep it interesting if they find themselves back in the studio or if the energy has already fleeted.

 

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Skit I Allt (2010) - ♪♪♪
Dungen (Sweden)

For most of its history, Dungen was the playground of Gustav Ejstes, who for the most part wrote all the songs and played everything on the recordings, then got the rest of the band together to play it all live. 2008's 4, which was actually their fifth album, marked the first time the quartet really played as a band in the studio, and Ejstes settled in as the pianist/vocalist/flautist. That approach continues here, and it seems to have led them in a more pastoral direction with a quit flute-led instrumental ‘Vara snabb’ opening the album. In fact it is not until the third song ‘Brallor’ that the drums and guitars come back into focus. The duet, with singer Anna Jarvinen as a psychedelic voice from outer space, may bring back memories to previous album but Dungen is obviously on a mission to more rural folk-psych. This may seem as if Dungen has gone totally down the hippy trail but it is when Reine Fiske harmonizes his muted guitar to the flute of Ejstes on acid-stained leads on the airy instrumentals ‘Högdalstoppen’ and ‘Blandband’ you’ll slowly figure out where the band is heading. The rural elements turn prog-rock and highly psychedelic. Especially ‘Högdalstoppen’ sounds like a Swedish answer to Pink Floyd’s ‘Ummagumma’. In fact, it sounds like this track was much longer but cut short to fit the album. Of course there are folky meanders like ‘Soda’ and several bits with a serious motion to them, but there aren’t any grand gestures — everything is delicately moulded. ‘Skit i allt’ (which actually means ‘Fuck it all’) may not be for everyone but for those of you who still enjoy a bit of prog in their rock Dungen means excellence.

 

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Blue Noir (2010) - ♪♪
Mylène Farmer (France)

Mylène, Mylène, where did it go wrong? After some excellent albums in the ending decade of the last century and a great come back in 2005 with ‘Avant que l'ombre’ your ‘Point de suture’ of 2008 was a mere consolidation of your unique artistic imagery. But with ‘Blue Noir’ you seem completely lost which way to go. And obviously you’re looking, maybe feeling surpassed by new diva’s like Lady Gaga or more close to home Ysa Ferrer. The single ‘Oui mais... non’ is commercially a nice single. But was the disqualification of your musical companion Laurent Boutonnat such a wise choice? Under production of RedOne (responsible for most of Gaga’s hits) you turn into something you may be not. For the other half of the album you turned to your friend Moby. Indeed your 2006 cooperation 'Slipping away / Crier la vie' was a great song and a big hit. But obviously it isn’t always golden what the two of you cook up. On tracks like ‘N'aie plus d'amertume’, ‘Toi l'amour’, ‘Inséparables’ and ‘Bleu noir’ Moby’s signature sound is so strong you are reduced just being interpretator. And it is possible if you listen to ‘Moi je veux...’ and ‘M'effondre’ where you two are much more complimentary. With ‘Lonely Lisa’ you go Gaga again with RedOne. Maybe you should give it another shot with Darius Keeler from Archive who comes closest to a new sound for your high voice with ‘Leila’ and ‘Diabolique mon ange’. For this album it is a lost cause though. Set aside a few nice singles it is a bloodless disappointing addition to your catalogue. Back to the drawing board Mylène.

 

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3e Temps (2010) - ♪♪♪
Grand Corps Malade (France)

Fabien Marsaud, known by the stage name of Grand Corps Malade, is sometimes placed in the recordstore under Hiphop. Which is odd since what his music has to do with that genre is gradually becoming more unclear. More a modern beat poet Fabien delivers with ‘3e Temps’ a dark, sinister poetic album that more sounds like he is the rightful heir of Leo Ferre then MC Solaar. He does not sing but speaks his lyrics in a dark slow manor. Although interesting this way also has a risky side mainly that as an artist you lay a big responsibility in the music supporting the text. If the music is too much in the background your text may go unnoticed and the whole song will become a sort of vocal drone. Especially for those of you who don’t master French. The first two songs on the album have this problem and actually I was about to skip on when ‘A l’ecole de la vie’ kicked in with a moody harmonica and dry rhythms.

With the impressive single ‘Roméo kiffe Juliette’ Fabien gets grip on his third album. An urban lovestory between a jewish girl and an arab boy Marsaud displays an entire racial issue in four minutes:”Romeo and Juliet Juliet gets off on Romeo / And if the sky is not too bad for mild weather / A love in the storm, the gods of men / One love, courage and two children out of standards / Romeo and Juliet are often secretly / It is not all around them people might laugh / Is that the father of Juliette has a yarmulke on his head/ And that of Romeo goes every day to the mosque / So they lie to their families, they are organized like the pros / If there is no place for their love, they make a decoration / They love the movies, with friends, in the subway/ Because love has its houses that ignore daron”. The song gradually builds up with piano, a choir and strong guitars. It is here that he sounds like he wrote a modern ‘Amour Anarchie’, it is here that you understand what GCM is about. A magnificant song.

But there is a lot of lyrics to go through: "I do not write for the album. I write all the time. When I start to think about the album, I look in my papers and I choose what I am typing on my computer for the album ". This method gives an insight of the world around Fabien and, more in general, of modern day France. Like in ‘J’attends’ (I wait): “I wait for inspiration to come knocking on my sheet / I expect that the need to write has already passed the threshold / And when I look, I look and sometimes I panic / See the world around me turns upside down / I await the end of hypocrisy snuff and without waiting / The end of a system that admits his racism / I am also stupidly the end of absolute power / Shareholders, dividends, profits, is stretched”. It is thanks to his musical quartet Denis Benarrosh (drums), piano (Michel Amsellem), Nicolas Marsol (bass) and Sebastian Chouard (guitar) the Grand Corps Malade has that French chanson feel and that the album stays interesting. And when Charles Aznavour joins in on ‘Tu es donc j’apprends’ the French association is complete. ‘3e Temps’ is an interesting album, maybe a somber bitter album (but that fits the season), great if you’re studying French and undoubtly Europop. But with 13 tracks it is also a long ride and for non-French maybe a bit too much inner poetic reflections.

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Mlýnské kolo v srdci mem (2010) - ♪♪♪♪
Hana Hegerová (Czech Republic / Slovakia)

Almost 25 years after her last regular album release – the magnificent ‘Potměšilý host’ (‘Wicked person’) – Hana Hegerova just released a brand new record, ‘Mlýnské kolo v srdci mem’ (‘Mill wheel in my heart’). Well, brand new… the album by the grande dame of the Czechoslowakian music scene, who will turn eighty years old next year (!), contains thirteen interpretations of French chansons. It took her more than twenty years to record them and one or two of the songs have been already released in the past (the stunning ‘Rozdíl’ for example has already been released as a single in 1996).

Hegerová’s career really took of at the end of the sixties and she had quite a successful international career, performing at several European stages like the Olympia in Paris, France. During the eighties stricter regulations by the government prevented her from continuing performing internationally. Since the fall of the iron curtain, she has been widely recognized as one of the most unique talents and greatest artist coming from former Czechoslovakia. During her long career she recorded and performed many French chansons, mostly in Czech language, sometimes also in German. With this new collection of French chansons with Czech lyrics Hegerová does not take a very experimental turn. She probably must have thought: why not doing just what I am best at? And when you are able to deliver these songs in such a fine way, we can only conclude that she is just right by saying that.

All songs were arranged and produced very beautifully, with only acoustic instruments piano, violin, accordion, percussion contrabass, guitar). Not very surprising or experimental, but it all sounds like the songs were created with a lot of love and attention. There are some funny elements, like Jaro Cossiga laying the beatbox on ‘Motokářka’ (a cover of Piaf’s ‘L’homme à la moto’).

The album starts of in an optimistic mood with Boris Vian’s ‘Jsem snob’ (‘Je suis snob’), but it quickly turns to more melancholic frame of mind with a fantastic interpretation of Isabelle Mayereau’s ‘Rozdíl’ (‘Différence’):
“You have a slightly different face and a slightly different voice / … / The wound is uncertain,  now what was our life, living as soloist / And the story is different, we have a picture / Now there are no flowers in the vase on the table / Another one .. another one / You have another silence, another flight / We were locked up, pull blinds, after their own ways to go!”

Another highlight of the album is the duet with famous Czech singer-songwriter Jaromir Hohavica. Together they sing the beautiful song ‘Stara píseñ’ (‘Oldy’), an interpretation of Barbara’s ‘La dame brune’.

In interviews Hegerová stated that she is certain this will be her last album release. With this in mind, the last song on the cd gets a very symbolic meaning – ‘Ten zlodej čas’ (‘The time thief´, a fantastic interpretation of Léo Ferré’s ‘Avec le temps’), with Czech lyrics by L. Feldek:
The thief took me a lot of time / He took every dear face / they were only a few / What more to say here / Only a goodbye and a silent voice / The time thief and memories / taking power at last / Lose brightness, fade / When someone forgot, where he slept last night / When in someone’s chest, already a dead muscle / … / extinguish the fire and frost - the thief time, took me a love!”

The song ends with a ticking clock, fading out slowly…

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Keraaminen Pää (2010) - ♪♪♪
Islaja (Finland)

Islaja is the recording alias of Merja Kokkonen, a musician and visual artist from Helsinki. Recording for Finnish quality label Fonal since 2004 her previous albums have that certain overtly pastoral nature you’ll find on more Scandinavian psychedelic folk-underground. For ‘Keraaminen Pää’ Islaja comes more down to earth with a more pop-approach to her music. Islaja herself describes it as her first albums were preferably silky thin and translucent, like a jellyfish swimming around in the ocean but Keraaminen Pää turned into a heavy, robot-moulded disc of clay. More simple said Merja has left the forest and now walks the big city. That doesn’t mean that the music still has that psychedelic pastoral atmosphere. Central themes on the album are the beckoning darkness, loneliness and the forces of natures versus those of the city: “ I want to walk along an icy street / as sure of myself as the trees in their snowy coats / I don’t want to go into the dark / this is the stairway to a volcano” (Pimeyttä kohti). The songs on ‘Keraaminen Pää’ were written, composed, and recorded on three continents over a period of three years, with Islaja performing, recording and mixing the majority of the album herself. The recordings may recall the waves crashing on the Bight of Benin, the frogs croaking on Lantau Island, the starry sky above Roihuvuori, Helsinki, or maybe a one-euro pizza in Berlin. The end result is an intriguing album, the one that seems so tranquil when you spin it for the first time but has those deeper darker under currents. An album that, to me, holds that unique Scandinavian vibe, something that is on the crossroad between darkness and light, like the Northern light glimmering from your stereo. Again interesting stuff coming from Finland.

 

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De Lachende Derde (2010) - ♪♪♪♪
Jeugd van tegenwoordig (Netherlands)

When the men of Jeugd van Tegenwoordig (Youth of Today) in the summer of 2005 debuted with the single 'Watskeburt!? " and their debut album, they presented themselves as enfants terribles of Dutch pop and rap. In a cheeky manner they kicked against the establishment. On the eve of their third album they themselves become sort of part of the establishment. That does not mean that the crew suddenly became politically correct although opening track ‘Zo volwassen, zo beleefd’ (so adult, so polite) does hint in that direction. In it the men indicate that partying and drugs have become less important to them. All in good fun of course because on the next track they again pose themselves as sexy beasts. However, the serious undertone is recognizable throughout the album. The single 'Sterrenstof' has a serious undertone where Willie Wartaal tells about his drug-addicted mother and what consequences it had on his own life. "Huilend naar de club" is about heartbreak and their anger and rage. Going out to kill the feeling of grief. But musically the album also shows an innovative step forward. Beatmaster Bas Bron lays down an electro-funky beat-tapestry that taps highly into the P-funk tradition. The sound is more varied than ever. This is already evident from the presence of an occasional saxophone or a trumpet. Bron’s influence is more prominent than on earlier albums, as for example in a number of synthesizer solos, but especially the fact that raps and vocals interwoven with the music. Highlights of the album for that matter are the back2back tracks ‘Elektrotechnique’ and ‘Vijf Sterren Abbo’ where the combo develop themselves in an all together electro-funk freakout. Jeugd van Tegenwoordig understand that they have to keep renewing itself, is just commendable. It creates an album that is more versatile than the two predecessors, without losing the consistency in their work


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Appelle-moi Jen (2010) - ♪♪♪
Jenifer (France)

Oh, the burden of winning a television talent show. France’s prime winner of ‘Star academy’ Jenifer can tell you from experience. In 2002 - thanks to her smooth, velvet vocals and romantic pop ballads - not to mention a massive marketing campaign - Jenifer shot to the top of the charts and became one of France’s most popular teen idols overnight. The trick was how to come up with a more credible and artistically fulfilling direction. Her second album branched out in more of a rock direction and on het third ‘Lunatique’ she displayed a vibrant mix of pop, reggae, ska and ‘60s rock. The last thanks to the help of her friend, the singer and musician M (Mathieu Chedid). A next step to credibility was the participation in the Vagina Monologues theatre plays. So now it’s time for a reintroduction with the pop side of Jenifer. A reintroduction on her own conditions that is. She went into the studio with the idea to make it a tribute to the sound of the favourites of her youth. Etienne Daho, Luna Parker, Lio and Niagara were the touchstones for this fourth album. For the album she teamed up with Pierre Guimard(Lilly Wood & The Prick) and Chat & Florent Lyonnet (of the group Jamaica). 'Les Autocollants' and  'Pole Dance' hint back to the synthpop era while single ‘Je danse’ is a bubblegum tribute to electro-pop and youthful outgoingness: “I dance to laugh / I pray the day never to return / I'm less afraid to tell the truth / Vampires that are in your memory”. The quality of a good pop album is that it has to be made serious without being pretentious. If you make a pop album you have to be sincere in the effort to make a genuine light album. That is why most TV-talentshow winners fail. The music they make is not their own musical truth. It’s someone elses, someone who has Euros in mind. Jenifer understood that as she seems to explain in ‘La verite’: “The truth is not good to hear / she is not beautiful to see / it's an ugly girl / and takes many masks / but true and she was born this way / you do not change it.” In returning to her pop-roots Jenifer found herself in a convincing way. The upcoming effort is to take that knowledge to a next level. For now we can call her Jen and enjoy her positive music.


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Panienki z temperamentem (2010) - ♪♪♪♪
Kayah & Renata Przemyk (Poland)

Two of the most popular and respected female singers from Poland joined forces on a very special and challenging project: ‘Panienki z temperamentem’ (‘The young girls of temperament’) an album with interpretations of 12 songs from the repertoire of the ‘Starszych Panów’ (‘Cabaret of old men’).

The ‘Starszych Panów’ were cabaret duo Jeremiego Przybory and Jerzego Wasowskiego, who wrote many beautiful songs, and they performed them on stage with many other Polish artists during the fifties and sixties. These performances were broadcasted live on radio and television and during the decades the material reached a legendary status in Poland. Especially the texts were of an unprecedented high level. The humor, wit, depth, rhythm and rhyme resulted in tremendous eloquence.

‘Nie, nie, nie budźcie mnie’(‘No, no, do not wake me’):
“I dream so interesting / It is more beautiful in my dream, than there, on your daydream / Because here, on this side of the lashes, wonderful nonsense makes that merciless sense / My business sense does not deprive / Do not wake me! No! No! Do not wake me!

‘Do ciebie szłam’ (‘I walked up to you’):
“I walked up to you from afar, from afar / I walked up to you - believe you're waiting. / I walked up to you - when you walked through an empty world. / I walked up to you-for years.
To you - I was walking through empty streets, I walked up to you - marked moon. / To you I was walking - lights of hope. / I walked up to you - by no more to go... / From you I was walking down the street / I walked up to you without tears and without illusions. / I walked up to you - without you I was walking the alien world. / Without you - how many years.”

So now these two respected pop singers have interpreted 12 of the songs of this legendary cabaret duo. First of all, Kayah and Przemyk have almost nothing in common as far as their voice, singing style is concerned. This also is very obvious on the album, which is a good thing. The first song, the beautiful lullaby ‘Już czas na sen’ (‘It’s time to go to sleep’), is interpreted by the two singers together. But the rest of the songs were devided among them, Kayah and Przemyk. This ensures that the album sounds very varied and remains fascinating to the end. Kayah’s interpretations are quite light and sparkling, silky smooth and accessible. Renata’s interpretations are darker and somewhat more difficult, but her voice tends more towards the original interpretations from the fifties and sixties. Although they differ so much in their singing style, thanks to the beautiful intimate arrangements, they created a cohesive and refined collection of songs that really pay homage to the legacy of Jeremiego Przybory and Jerzego Wasowskiego.

 

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Causes perdues et musiques tropicales (2010) - ♪♪♪
Bernard Lavilliers (France)

Lost causes and tropical music. What a title for your next project. But for Lavilliers there was no other title possible when former French president Mitterand asked him recently what he was doing. Throughout his career he has been mingling with Latin and African music and putting them to a French approach. Social awareness was also a regular theme popping on the ex-boxer musical output. So tropical it gets when he travels to Angola for the opening track. He then goes to the other end of the ocean for zydeco influences on ‘L’exile’ (with Juan Mosalini on bandeon). Then he goes south with ‘Je cours’. Together with the excellent Spanish Harlem Orchestra he pays tribute to Brazilian music makers like Lalo Schifrin and Ruben Blades. This big song is followed by an intimate tango (Sourire en coin) before he pops back to Africa for the bluesy ‘La nuit nous apparient’ and ‘Coupeurs de Cannes’. One of the strongest tracks on the album ‘Identité nationale’ is a track filled with tension reporting of a refugee on the run. Bernard states in interviews that the album is a complaint to the current foreign policy by the Sarkozy adminatration. Dark and hunting, with the orchestra and background singers laying a haunting James Bond like arrangement, Bernard sees a future where there is no place for consideration just fear. Closing track ‘Cafard’ makes a final run along the Latin roost before Lavillier ends his trip around the world: “Take them, your ideas, your faces / Warfare mills, clouds / Do not forget anything your crazy dreams / Keep them, wear them until the end”. Always a traveler, always raised fist, always dancing, always a poet, Lavilliers makes a nice return after his more reggae influenced 'Samedi soir à Beyrouth'.

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Non conosco nessun Patrizio! (2010) - ♪♪♪♪
Milva (Italy)

More than three years after the very credible, but commercially less successful ‘In territorio nemico’ (‘In enemy territory’) on the small NAR-label, Milva is back with a new album for Universal: ‘Non conosco nessun Patrizio!’ (‘No I do not know any Patrick!’). It is a very special album since it is a collection of ten songs by the great Sicilian singer and songwriter Franco Battiato. Milva collaborated with Battiato on two previous records: ‘Milva e dintorni’ (1982) and ‘Svegliando l’amante che dorme’ (1989); both collaborations have become creative peaks in Milva’s career (and the cd-releases highly collectable...). Will this new, third collaboration of the duo again be successful?

‘Milva e dintorni’ presents a Milva ‘new wave-style’ with experimental arrangements and interesting songs of the (then) not so famous Battiato. ‘Svegliando…’ is the ultimate pop album by diva Milva and (by then) one of Italy’s most successful artists, Battiato. Fantastic pop songs, great vocal performances by Milva, a real gem! And now there is part three, ‘Non conosco nessun Patrizio!’. Both Milva and Battiato have reached an entirely new, mature, phase in their careers. The album sounds light and relaxed yet melancholic; both artists do no longer have anything to prove. And it is clear that both of them enjoyed working together, again, very much. The song selection is surprisingly, the arrangements are very respectful and fitting for Milva’s voice and age (already 71!), the production entirely dedicated to the beautiful songs and the singer. That having said, the downside of it all is that it sounds much less urgent and experimental than the former two Milva-Battiato albums.

The songs represent the many different musical phases of Battiato, yet they match very well together and become a fully cohesive collection. Some of the songs are (very) old, like ‘Le aquile’ (‘The eagle’) and ‘Segnali di vita’ (‘Sign of life’), both sounding extremely well in these new versions. And some songs were taken from more recent Battiato albums like ‘Il ballo del potere’ (‘The dance of power’) and ‘Io chi sono?’ (‘I, who am I?’). Two songs are reworks of the ‘Svegliando…’-album: ‘Una storia inventata’ (‘An invented story’) and ‘I processi del pensiero’ (‘The prcession of thoughts’).

The title track ‘Non conosco nessun Patrizio!’ is a new song, melancholic, even dark at times, composed by Battiato & Camisasca with beautiful lyrics by Sgalambro:

“Strange season, one and the other detached of us, who do not know anything / The path of the past, the games together now, are well separated. / Gusts of wind have carried away our lives / Our desire, strong, sleepless, has become soft and hazy, inconsistent / … / I have lived too long on passion / The whirlwind of the senses is not quiet / Yesterday my mother asked me about you / I told her that I also deleted you from my list of enemies… forever / And I realize that I miss you and that I could live without...”

Over the years Milva has proven that she is an outstanding interpreter of Battiato’s songs. And this album is once again a statement that she is one of his best muses. With all her maturity and live experience, she knows how to deal with the metaphysical, philosophical lyrics of Battiato and his co-authors. A perfect example is the majestic interpretation of one of Battiato’s more recent songs, ‘Io chi sono?’ (‘Who am I?’) with lyrics by Battiato and Sgalambro:

“I am who I am / … / Everything is an illusion without substance / Everything is emptiness and yet here we are again / Living here since time immemorial / Here you do not learn anything / The same mistakes are inevitable / Always the same horrors as always / However, in an empty room light joins space / Become one inseparable thing / the space in light joins the one thing I am / Who am I? / I am the light that joins space in a single indivisible thing / I am who I am”

Good wine becomes better when it gets older. And that saying also goes for Milva ‘La Rossa’. It was a good choise to team up with Battiato for a third time. They have left their need to experiment and innovate behind, but in return we can enjoy a melancholic, mature album with ten beautiful interpretations of Battiato’s songs. Definitely a grand cru! 

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Fier (2010) - ♪♪♪
Nick & Simon (Netherlands)

In the review of their former album ‘Luister’ we asked the question wether Nick and Simon would be chosing for pop rather then pleasing the Dutch schlager (levenslied) market. And indeed with their fourth album ‘Fier’ (which roughly translates as ‘Proud’) they made that choice for Pop. Some critics already described the album as a big leap forward but if you listened carefully to their former album ‘Fier’ is a natural evolution by two gifted singer/songwriters. Single and track #1 ‘Een nieuwe dag’ (A new day) marks that step forward with a rich arrangement filled with strings. Dedicated producer Gordon Groothedde (known for producing Dutch indie bands like Krezip and The Sheer) and the boys made an effort in trying not to use synthesizers but the real deal. Especially the addition of the brass section the Stylus Horns (on songs like ‘Vallen en opstaan’ ‘Alles of niets’and ‘Bij je zijn’) give the album a sort of Dutch soul dimension. The soul-vibe is continued in the bonus DVD which features a jam session filled with songs by Jamie Lidell and Amos Lee (a.o.). There is also a downside to this and that is one that almost every Dutch production has. Somehow Dutch producers have the rule that if you used an instrument you’ll have to add it to the mix. Less is more is a rule that eludes most producers in de Low Countries. You’ll notice that where production deliberately is kept ‘small’ it is actually better. Songs like ‘Mag ik met je mee’, ‘Blind voor mijn ogen’, ‘Vlinder’ and ‘Wijzer’ (based on a simple children melody) with just a piano, guitar and some strings have more expressiveness then all these lush arrangements. The emphasis comes more on the vocal melodies. More evidently is the song ‘Vaderdag’ (Fathersday) written for Simon’s recently deceased father, where the emotional factor makes a touching ballad, piano only. For some critics the album still sounds to smooth for their liking. Nick responds in a recent interview: “the album sounds much more organic and more robust than the previous album. All the instruments are real. And of course the song were mixed, otherwise it will sound too rough. And then you probably hear the critics say it sounds too rough. These are choices we have made. And what they are, we’ll always get criticized. " And indeed it sounds a bit unfair to judge ‘Fier’ of sounding to rough or not. One can even wonder if the voices of N&S are fitting on an alternative rocksound. You could say that N&S are eager to please but at the age of 27 who can blame them. During the album it also comes clear how well the voices of the boys match each other. After four years working together their vocals blend together in an almost natural and seemingly effortless way and deliver their most mature album to date. In Europe, and I searched through our catalogue thoroughly, I am not capable to name another male vocal duo. At least not one that not shamelessly copies American R&B but makes original radio friendly Europop. No wonder they are currently one of the most popular acts in the Netherlands.

 

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Eindelijk vrij (2010) - ♪♪♪
Rob de Nijs (Netherlands)

Free at last (Eindelijk vrij) is what Rob’s message is to his public and his ex-wife after a somewhat messy divorce. After almost a decade of albums with translated covers (Vanaf vandaag (2004)), dubious Christmas albums and an album with a failed attempt to jump on the French chanson wagon it seems Rob also found the liberty to make an album that does justice to his talent. If you  skip all the unnecessary releases you could say that ‘Eindelijk vrij’ follows the album ‘Engelen uitgezonderd’ from 2001 (mostly written with his ex-wife and artists like Frank Boeijen). For the album Rob teamed up with Dutch singer/songwriter Daniel Loheus. No wonder the duo moved to Louisiana in the US which Loheus sees as his musical second home. Elements of blues, country and Cajun were brought in by local musicians the duo picked up along the way. I emphasize the word ‘ elements’ since the album above all sounds very Dutch. As we said before Dutch productions tend to filter out all the rough edges in the mix. And that is exactly what happens here. Considering the surrounding in which the process took place you’ll expect a raw and unpolished roots album. But somehow the roots took them back to the Dutch clay and it all got flattened out a bit. But so much for the criticism because Rob still has one of the better male vocals in Dutch pop and ‘Eindelijk vrij’ is his first serious album since a very long time. And an album that fits his age. A bit modest, a bit nostalgic and very adult. Rob himself took great care in picking out the material: "I only sang the good songs. It sounds pretentious but it is logical. After all, why one is good and not another, makes it eternal discussions. But for me it is a good song, a song that touches me me and gets under my skin. And once that happens, I want to sing it. When I get proposed to ideas and texts, it is yes or no for me, there is no in between. ".An example of this is the song ‘Nog steeds geen rock & roll’ (Still not rock & roll) which Loheus wrote one evening after Rob told him about the fact that he is still considered un-worthy by the Dutch rock press. In the song Loheus changes the misunderstanding into a song of pride, as if Rob gives them the finger: “The called me anything but still not rock & roll”. It doesn’t matter, for the Dutch part of Europop Rob again proved he is still one of the originals voices. People familiar with Dutch productions know what I mean..

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Proxima (2010) - ♪♪♪♪♪
Anna Oxa (Italy)

I come to you, it’s a natural destiny... Do you remember me? I think you do...” is the first line of the opening track of Proxima, Anna Oxa’s 25th album, after 5 years of silence. The song was written for her by Ivano Fossati, the famous singer/songwriter who helped launching Anna’s career back in 1978 with the now classic song ‘Un’ emozione da poco’. It is the only radio-friendly track on this new Oxa-album…

Much has happened since 1978… Anna Oxa became the darling of the Italian pop scene and participated at the San Remo festival frequently during the eighties. Her material was very commercial, a bit exaggerated and over-dramatic with lot of synths. During the nineties her albums evolved in a more jazzy yet ethereal direction and her output became a bit more interesting and credible. But it would last until 2003 with her album ‘Ho un sogno’ (‘I have a dream’) and the follow up ‘La musica é niente se tu non hai vissuto’ (‘The music is nothing if you have not lived’) from 2006, when she released two highly experimental and interesting albums – and committed commercial suicide. Reviews ranged from fantastic to terrible, however, the public did not understand Anna’s new musical direction and the albums were commercial disasters.

Now, after some 5 years, she’s back with a new album, released on the small, independent label ‘Cosa di musica’. Apart from Fossati, Anna collaborated on this new project with some interesting people; Francesco Bianconi from ‘Baustelle’, Mara Redeghieri (singer of Ustmamò), Paolo E. Archetti (from Yo Yo Mundi) and L. de Crescenzo (aka Pacifico). The art work – presenting Anna in a very beautiful, yet somewhat unearthly way – is the first sign of what we can expect musically and artistically. Anna used her time off for self-reflection, for extensive musical research and this way reinventing herself and her music. The result is ‘Proxima’, an album about voyages, moving towards the future, about the fundamental elements that surround us, and – naturally – about love.

Anna did not stick in the frustration and somberness of her previous two records, but created an album with a very light and positive atmosphere. But do not be mistaken, this does not mean that she offers us an easy listening experience… On the contrary, the songs are multi-layered, have complex structures and have fresh, innovative arrangements. Electronic instruments are being combined with traditional and even ethnic instruments. Some of the tracks were even recorded with an entire orchestra (Orchestra Sinphonic Bulgarian). And there is a lot of vocal experimentation, transforming Anna’s voice into an intriguing instrument in itself. In a way she shrugs towards experimental singers like Björk, Diamanda Galas and Meredith Monk.

Although Anna is not a composer, she did contribute to some of the compositions. Furthermore, she took control of the artistic direction of the project. This way, it really became her very own signature album, even though most of the songs were written for her. A few lines from the lyrics of the album to give an impression of Anna’s message:

‘Ammesso Che Un Dio Esista’ (‘Assuming that a God exists’):
“If I recognized that God played with my soul instead of me / I’d show him the line between fear and dignity and these hands soaked in blood and hardship / I would still have tears, my heart, moments of regret... fantasies / I'd take him to places where even the pity would have enough stomach to cry out / Which winter ... which plug, what punishment, which hand, which goodbye / From what hell - born again”

‘Haiku’:
“Haiku ... secure and fragile, the embrace of poetry / … / Stream of light, the journey of a leaf / Transparent, like butterfly wings / Find... the needle that sews and writes the season and then the wire that chases kites in the wind / Light sound of eyelashes, like a feather that slips”

‘Apri gli occhi’ (‘Open your eyes’):
“Open your eyes and the immensity will begin / An endless road to be taken / Try again every day, it will come / over the stormy sea, in the heart / … / I'm not afraid while I’m alive / While the skin burns / And I will have the courage, I will be the force / I will have the will...”

‘Dopo la neve’ (‘After the snow’):
“Love is a moment of strength and freedom, light and careful, will be dancing / Will melt the snow, and the sky will open / Streams and rivers, broke through to me / And the time disappeared - restarts”

La Oxa is back and with a fantastic, courageous album. It does make me wonder why it took her more than thirty years to reveal this incredible artist from somewhere deep down below the commercial San Remo chick from some decades back. Whatever the reason was for her to keep this side of her hidden away, I am very glad it came out finally! And I can only hope she will not have spilled her new found creativity at once, so we can hear more of this new Anna Oxa in the future.

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Frei (2010) - ♪♪♪
Polarkreis 18 (Germany)

One takes a bit of Modern Talking, a chunk of Heaven 17 and A-ha and add a hint of Alphaville. Mix this carefully. What you get must be close to what the Dresden synthpop combo Polarkreis 18 cook up. It is kitsch synth pop like they only can make in Germany. We all know the danger: the mainstream critic will be waiting to ripp the throat of such pop glitterama. But from the pompous opening bells of ’Frei’ you’ll know it is useless to resist. Like a castrated altar boy singer Felix Räuber jumps out to claim his freedom. And like an icebreaker the Polarkreis team pushes on through the glazier with ’Unendliche Symphonie’ and ’All that I love’ :“ Life is just a melody, unendliche Sinfonie / Soundtrack of eternity, unendliche Sinfonie / It is all around, it is all around in every heart it can be found / Unendliche Sinfonie”. And when you think it can’t get much more camp you’ll get Felix’ plea to win ‘Deine Liebe’, one of the highlights on the album. After this you’ll get a bit washed up by all the grand gestures before the second highlight ‘Dark & Grey’ kicks in. We will not make it a habit to review albums that are partially sung in ‘Engrish’ and part in German. But musically Polarkreis 18 is so enormously rooted in the German musical history that they make up for the bad English (half the time you won’t be even sure what language they sing in). ‘Frei’ is synthglitch in the great Saxon tradition. Like a sweetcake version of Rammstein.

 

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"50" (2010) - ♪♪♪
Maryla Rodowicz (Poland)

Versatile Polish pop-diva Maryla Rodowicz turned 65 this year. That might be one of the reasons for her why she selected 14 Polish jazz and bigband classics from the fifties for her brand new album “50”. La Rodowicz about these songs: "For me it's back to my childhood. The fifties, where, in addition to folk music, I listened to these wonderful compositions. They shaped me.”

With this collection of songs Maryla presents to us her interpretation of jazz, swing, latin and boogie-woogie. It reflects the echoes of American bigbands, Frank Sinatra and his colleagues from long ago. Many artists turn to re-interpretations of the American songbook, but not Maryla Rodowicz. She made a selection of only Polish standards. And I have to admit, these songs do swing! (Poland has had a flourishing jazz scene since many years and is definitely one of the leading jazz nations within Europe.) The entire album was recorded with the VIVA Symphony Orchestra and Krysztof Herdzin took care of the production and arrangements. Naturaly, Maryla adds her own touches to the production and with her voice and some of the guitar lines, there is still a rock ‘n roll feel throughout the album.

Maryla succeeded very well in bringing back that typcial fifties feeling, but thanks to great production and beautiful arrangements it all sounds very modern at the same time. Although most of the songs are up tempo, the few ballads impressed me the most. ‘Już nigdy’(‘Never again’), ‘A mnie jest szkoda lata’ (‘And I pity the years’) and ‘Pierwszy siwy włos’ (‘The first gray hair’) are very touching ballads with a sound that reminds med of Pat Metheny. Maryla switches musical styles and directions with every new album, so it seems. She already did folk, blues, gospel, rock and disco. And now she proved to us that she can also swing. Who knows what she will come up with on her next album...

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Í Annan Heim (2010) - ♪♪♪
Rökkurró (Iceland)

The Scandinavian music holds several esoteric pearls with bands that sound as melancholic and alluring as the cold and desolate landscapes they originate from. With that in mind Icelandic Rökkurró places itself neatly between Danish experimental pessimists Under Byen, Swedish sirene Stina Nordenstam and Norway’s legendary indiepop combo Bel Canto. With their second album on the 12 Tonar label 'Í Annan Heim' (In another World) the band continues on their semi-acoustic musical path. Under guidance of producer Alex Somers, partner and music collaborator of Jónsi Þór Birgisson (Sigur Rós). 'Í Annan Heim' is a collection of nine songs that feature, and I quote, “a darker, more expansive and mature sound, full of meticulously crafted melodies, complex arrangements and smooth sonic textures”. In normal language this means the band spend three years to slowly but gradually sculpt and sculpt on the bright airy pop melodies you will find on the album. Recorded with mostly acoustic instruments (cello, violin, French horn, guitar, drums) and the sometimes odd sample (somewhere on the album there’s a sample of a tape recorded pushed under water?!) the album came about in Alex’s kitchen, rehearsal studio’s and the 12 Tonar venue. The snag isn’t the music though, it’s the high pitched voice of Hildur Kristín Stefánsdóttir. We’ve heard these voices before from Scandinavian ladies and it’s either love or hate. To me it gives a certain mystical fairytale feel to the music but after playing it four times Paul Royal disappeared to the attic and blocked the door until I finish this review. But of you’re into this stuff songs like ‘Í Annan Heim’, ‘Skuggamyndir’, ‘Sjónarspil’, ‘Fjall’ and ‘Undir Sama Himni’ are like ice-cream for your ears. Sweat and very very cool.

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Alleati non ovvi (2010) - ♪♪♪♪
Viola Valentino (Italy)

‘Allies are not obvious’ is a full length album, following the somewhat unexpected critical and commercial success of Viola’s 2009 ep ‘I tacchi di Giada’ (‘The heels of Jade’), also reviewed on this website (review: 'I tacchi di Giade'). This album contains the six excellent songs from the ep with six brand new songs and the digital edition of the novel, written by Daniel and Louis Matta and inspired by the song ‘I tacchi di Giade’.

Female abuse by their male partner was one of the central themes of the original six songs on the ep. With the extension of the project with six new songs, La Valentino further explores this theme, but now from the perspective of a homosexual person. The beautiful song ‘Domani è un altro giorno’ (‘Tomorrow is another day’) is a clear denunciation of homophobia, of the anti-gay feeling that is still present in Italy. Viola sings from the perspective of a man who is physically assaulted, who screams his pain, without leaving any details. The song was immediately adopted by the gay community and became the anthem of the last gay pride parade held in Naples and Palermo.

‘Domani è un altro giorno’ (‘Tomorrow is another day’):
“And now tell me if it just hit your frustration / If only there in your heart / hate and love / Now tell me then if we are so different / Now I feel your fists. / This crazy society, always ready to judge / Away from everything and nothing / The soul then is two steps from reality / Alone, it is easy to die here / In those eyes, overflowing with anger and then / More exalted in the flock, in search of a victim / Tonight, tonight. / I turn my eyes up to heaven / We are all inside / Tomorrow is another day - and you will see, and you will see”

This song was written by Andrea Gallo, who was also involved in the writing of most of the other new songs. They all sound timeless as well as very 2010. It is definitely not a nostalgic trip back to the eighties (the period of Viola’s popularity). No, Viola definitely has an urgent message to deliver and she put it on some great melodies with perfect arrangements. ‘Perduto amore’ (‘Lost love’) tells the story of a love gone but never forgotten. ‘Le prove di un addio’ (‘Evidence of a farewell’) is also about the end of a relationship, but in this case it has an optimistic view, as if after having taken a decision, however painful, things can get better. One track does really not fit the album: ‘La musica non c’è’ (‘There is no music’), a hilarious disco-duet with (transsexual) Eleonora Magnifico, who also co-wrote the song. In ‘Lungometraggio’ (‘Movie’), Viola presents to us her perspective on everything that surrounds, with a specific reference to social and racial prejudices (white or blacks, and good or bad). These opposites are often joined together making them ‘not so obvious allies’. These opposites are also presented on the art work of the album, with one melancholic, serene Viola on the front cover, and Viola as a greedy, vampire persona on the back…

 

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Live al Blue Note (2010) - ♪♪♪
Ornella Vanoni (Italy)

Ornella Vanoni is one of the great ladies of Italian music. To celebrate her 75th birthday, she gave a few recitals at the Blue Note club in Milano, December last year. A registration of the highlights from these concerts were released as a 2cd album, simply entitled ‘Live al Blue Note’.

The album presents us La Vanoni in perfect shape. And even though she’s been performing for more six decades now, her voice still sounds in perfect condition. She is accompanied by a five-person combo (drums, guitar, piano/keyboards, bass, percussion) whose only mission is to facilitate La Vanoni’s performance. There is no doubt that she’s the shining centre piece of the event.
Ornella sounds very relaxed and comfortable; between many of the songs she interacts with the public telling small stories and anecdotes. (Fortunately, these talks were indicated as separate ‘bla bla’-tracks on the cd. So when you just want to listen to the music tracks, you can easily skip the talks!)

For the concerts in the Blue Note, the songs were a arranged just a little bit more jazzy than usual. But the song selection is still typical Vanoni. The first half of the concert (and cd) is filled with almost all the songs from her latest album, ‘Più di te’. Towards the end of the first cd, Ornella sings two jazz standards, ‘My funny valentine’ and ‘I get along without you very well’ (from the ‘Argilla’ album). The second part of the concert starts with some of her famous latin-american tunes; ‘La voglia, la pazzia’, ‘Samba per Vinicius’, ‘Samba della rosa’ and ‘Tristezza’. This bossa nova-set is followed by some of her signature songs: the beautiful self-penned ‘Perduto’, the Mogol-Lavezzi tune ‘Per l’eternita’, Gino Paoli’s ‘Senza fine’ and, of course, ‘Domani è un altro giorno’, one of her first hits. She finishes the recital with a fantastic version of ‘I maschi’, the Gianna Nannini hit that she recorded for her latest album ‘Più di te’.

So how do we rate this album? ‘Live al Blue Note’ is definitely a fine concert album, but a bit on the safe side. Furthermore, almost all the songs from her latest album were integrated in the recital. Unfortunately, in our opinion these songs are not part of Ornella’s most creative output. It sometimes tends towards middel-of-the-road or easy listening, while the diva has also recorded some great jazz experiments (‘Ornella e…’, ‘Argilla’), exquisite pop (‘Uomini’, ‘Sherazade’ etc.) and many albums with outstanding Italian standards (almost all ostunning interpretations of  her sixties and seventies albums). Personally, we prefer the more intense live recording ‘Adesso – live’ from 1999. On the other hand, it is a great document of one of Italy’s best pop singers still going strong after so many years. And for that all our respect to La Vanoni. Therfor: three notes from us for her Blue Note-album…

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Wszyscy muzycy to wojownicy (2010) - ♪♪♪♪
Voo Voo (Poland)

Polish avant garde rock collective is back at the front with the message that all musicians are warriors. And with it they take a turn to a more rough approach. Gone are the jazz influences and in with the stonerrock and grunge. And it becomes them. Opening track ‘Zbroja’ is a stomping song which grinds and gets pushed up by a mean saxophone played by Mateusz Pospieszalski. With this new album core-member Wojciech Waglewski wanted to return to the sound of the seventies with analogue equipments and recording techniques. It gives songs like ‘Miło byłoby mi’ and ‘Mało mnie rusza’ that rough edge under production by young producers Emade and Maciej Cieślak. It sounds like they locked the band in the garage with a two microphones and threatened not to release them before their fingers bled. Still the band also knows how to create a gentle tune. With ‘Język, gęba, strój’ they kick back into a blueslike folk melody. Although in mind the album looks back at the seventies of the past century it does not refer to “free love”, “new awareness” or “the limits of cognition” – the myths of those times. It draws on the notion of “marching forward” – non-commercial, free and rebellious. The album is a testimony of fighting for one’s beliefs and individuality. ‘They are afraid of us’ grunts Waglewski on ‘Mają się nas bać’ before the band erupts in the single and title track. With ‘Wszyscy muzycy to wojownicy’ sounds like the Polish answer to classic stoned band Master of Reality. But then with a Polish twist. It pumps and grinds and sounds loud, dirty and urgent. And that for a band that has been around for more then twenty years. Chapeau.

 

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Za7ie (2010) - ♪♪♪
Zazie (France)

For this year there wasn’t a more highly anticipated album at the Europop office then the new one from French singer Zazie. And finally it has arrived. Does it live up to our expectations ? After long debate we had to conclude that Zazie did make another great album but that she also got lost in the massive project she cooked up. Imagine, together with husband Phillippe Paradis (and daughter Papillon Paravel) she locked herself in their country home to come up with a total of 49 new songs. This first release containing 14 tracks are just the tip of the iceberg of the releases that are to follow the next weeks. By December the whole project will be released. But for this review we’ll limit ourselves to the first 14 songs. Compared to her five-star albums ‘Rodéo’ and ‘Totem’ the feeling creeps up on us that the sheer relaxeness in which this project came about also resulted in the fact that most songs lost their sense of urgency. The more you listen to album the more you get the feeling that being away from big city live Zazie started looking back to the past years when she gradually turned into one of France’s most popular artists. Like she sings in ‘La place du vide’ ( a duet with Aaron) :  "How beautiful are the dreams of yesterday / Forgotten there in the dust / Under a pretext of passing time / We let the wind take their place / It's not the fault of the oceans / If men plunge into their dream / A strong belief in the invisible / Often mine are missing the mark".

On the albums elements and themes of her previous albums appear. The power full Amazon who sings on a tango-melody : "Tell me who the hell sent me / These hordes of horses / I bareback / Like a boy / And who stands against me/ And galloping tell me who,/ Who else but me?”. The hippy chick dancing barefoot in the streets of Paris (‘Les pieds nus’). The doubting little girl : "I know but I sow yet / Doubt and torment / Is known only when / We really love” (Avant l’amour) and the woman in love : "Whenever I am against thee / Oh I am so, so much joy / It is against the weight / I love what I do not like” (Je vous aime). Zazie looks to what her career brought her : "Chairs, a table, a bed, a roof that was all we had / Twenty years ago these were great dreams / that was everything we needed / Car, house, for sure it's good now that is what it hides / It fills us, it makes us no better yet I know / For everything is not quite what we have”. Also musically ‘Za7ie’ is the sum of parts of the previous albums with catchy electronics, funky popbeats, soothing ballads and some acoustic elements. This atmosphere of looking back makes that you look over the shoulder of Zazie. The listener is the mere observer. The songs lack what ‘Totem’ and ‘Rodeo’ did have, the capability to take you by the hand and make you part of Zazie’s musical adventure. With this seventh album Zazie performs for you but not with you. Somehow ‘Za7ie’ in all its magnitude and splendeur is more a consolidation than innovation. Let’s be honest, there are a lot of European artists would give their right hand to be able to record an album like this. From Zazie however we expected more.


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Dueti (2010) - ♪♪
Jasna Zlokić (Croatia)

Celebrating 25 years in business as a Croatian singer and queen of the Split festivals, Jasna Zlokić thought it would be appropriate to team up with some of the friends she made over the years. As a regular at the Split festival she made many. The album opens with a duet Oliver Dragojevic, a singer she shared the Split stage with many times. Of course Marijan Ban (Skitnica), Arsen Dedic (Djevojka iz mog kraja) and Goran Karan aren’t forgotten and each deliver a contribution. Although an impressive list of names you’ll probably notice that most of the vocal companions have, how do we say this politely, passed a certain age. More specific, Saša Lozar  (Da li znaš da te volim) and Gibonni (dueting on ‘Ako me nosiš na duši’) represent the young generation here. This has its effect on the tempo of the album which is all in mid or down-tempo and making Jasna’s duet project even more MOR then usual (with sometimes going dangerously close to schlager as on ‘Funiculi Funicula’ with Tamara Obrovac). But, all arrangements are done in good taste by Alexander Valencic, hardly any synths are used and Jasna is obviously enjoying the project. At the age of 55 her voice is still great. ‘Dueti’ is not for the youngsters but for any of you looking for a nice MOR album from Croatia you can easily enjoy this album. Oh, and next year it’s the 50th anniversary of Split and guess who will be present?

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