“Of Course It Is” – Clann Zú  link no longer available
I am immediately engaged by the way musical elements accumulate through the course of this song’s unhurried introduction: first a warm, deep guitar and a spare bass; then the drum kit, cymbally and intriguingly off the beat; as the drums settle on firmer ground, the guitar moves up in register, and clarifies the riff; a rolling snare opens up both space and tension, the music gains in intensity, and then, at the moment of greatest frenzy, in comes something that sounds at first like a voice singing in another room. Actually it’s a violin. Fully two and a half minutes thus pass before we hear the singer, a Bono-like lad from Australia named Declan de Barra. His entry galvanizes the rest of the piece, which has dynamics aplenty to offer during its second half, including some inspired drumming, dramatic violin colors, and a simple but unexpectedly poetic lyric that infuses the music with depth and grandeur, even as the music does the same for the words. The band comes from Melbourne; “Of Course It Is” can be found on an EP released in 2001. A full-length CD, entitled Rúa, came out in the fall of 2003, on G7 Welcoming Committee Records.

“Motel Sex” – Danny Cohen  link no longer available
With a musical history dating back to the early ’60s, Danny Cohen is something of an underground legend, about which not much is known and a fair amount has been invented. But along the way he acquired some impressive fans–including Tom Waits and Ray Davies–and is about to re-emerge after decades on the fringe with a release on a semi-major label, entitled Dannyland. Cohen’s voice may be quirky and unpolished but the overall musical package is anything but–the playing is beautiful and nuanced, the setting extraordinarily well-crafted, oozing with a full-bodied knowledge of rock history, and yet full of neat little surprises, particularly in the skewed edges of the guitar work. In a touch apparently indicative of his subversive humor, the song is really about Motel 6, but of course he couldn’t use a company name like that so altered it by one letter. Dannyland is due out later this month, on Anti Records.

“Fashion Party” – Daniele Luppi  link no longer available
And when the aggressive harshness of human life in 2004 becomes too much for me, I have now a wondrous musical escape hatch. Daniele Luppi is an Italian composer who has written, produced, and arranged an album that is a living homage to the indelible sound of late ’60s and early ’70s Italian film scores. Inspired by composers such as Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota, Luppi has himself written music that equally evokes (to quote the precise and effective description on his web site) “a glorious, color-saturated world of zippy sports cars, plastic pop-art furniture, luxurious villas and all-night discotheques.” And here’s the thing: Luppi isn’t some young, mad computer genius alone in a room with a 32-track digital recorder. Rather, he knew he could not legitimately recreate the music without employing the musicians who themselves had made it. And so he hired the three surviving members of Marc 4 to play his new compositions (Marc 4 was the name of the quartet that played on literally hundreds of ’60s and ’70s Italian film soundtracks, much the way the Funk Brothers played on so many Motown records). He even recorded everything in the studio of Marc 4 bassist Maurizio Majorana, where much of the original music was produced. The resulting sound leaps from the speakers: sprightly guitars strumming against a dark, slithery bass line, setting the stage for–of course!–a whistle. (Luppi, true to form, hired the same whistler employed famously for Sergio Leone’s spaghetti-weseterns.) Much of the atmosphere and charm of the song, to me, emerges from the whistled melody’s snarky intervals–that is, the musical distance between adjacent notes: half-steps here, minor-sixth leaps there, and many other sly twists. The whole thing is driven by an assured, funky beat, colored by a bit of Hammond organ below and a sexy trumpet up on top. The CD is called The Italian Story, and was released on Rhino Records in February.




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