Both clever and enormous fun, Capossela could be Italy’s next star on the global stage.
Robin Denselow 2012-05-11
Italy isn’t known for its breakthrough musical mavericks. Until now, the greatest Italian hero to translate internationally has been Paolo Conte, now in his 70s and compared to both Tom Waits and Jacques Brel. But Vinicio Capossela, an artist who can mix an astonishing variety of global styles with unexpected emotion and humour, could well take over as the country’s best-known eccentric superstar.
He’s not exactly a newcomer, for this experimental singer-songwriter has already enjoyed a career lasting over 20 years. During this time he’s won awards in Italy, and worked alongside great American guitarist Marc Ribot and Balkan brass heroes the Kočani Orkestar. But now comes this highly entertaining and unusual double album that will, one suspects, bring him a far wider following outside Italy. The fact that it’s classily packaged, with full English translations of all his unusual songs, is an added advantage.
Capossela is a remarkable for the way he matches passion and invention with the ability to tackle subjects that are as unexpected as his songs. He is not just a musician but a novelist fascinated by literature, history and myth, and his themes here range from Achilles to the Bible, the sea and whales (several songs are "inspired by Herman Melville", the writer of Moby Dick).
He starts with Billy Budd, which sounds like a demented sea-shanty with edgy guitar from Ribot, and then moves off into songs that often match his fine, intimate vocals against quirky or theatrical settings.
There are sections where he sounds like a breathy, laid-back balladeer; these play out against other passages where, like Conte, he echoes Tom Waits. He’s an impressive instrumentalist, playing piano, harpsichord, guitar and kalimba, and he’s joined by musicians playing anything from steel drums to brass, strings, tin whistle, hurdy-gurdy and Cretan lyra.
The result is a highly entertaining set that ranges from the relaxed to the dramatic and at times downright manic, with the mood constantly shifting, from easy-going piano styles to dub effects and what sounds like a possessed Celtic choir singing light opera.
Capossela is both clever and enormous fun.