Italia is a sequel to Putumayo’s Italian Café with the focus this time around, according to the liner notes, on “contemporary singer-songwriters whose influences reflect the diverse, globalized Italy of today.”
This slightly throws me because it’s not what I am expecting and I don’t know this modern Italy the album intends to reflect. I am familiar with classic twentieth-century Italian music, however, from growing up in Buffalo, NY when my grandfather would play his well-worn LPs at family get-togethers as red wine flowed after dinner while stories and laughs were shared. Instead, Italia offers a new Italy where the global influences have permeated too much of the music for my taste, losing much of the Italian identity and creating a generic world music album.
It opens with Simone Lo Porto “Il Girasole,” sounding like a lazy day at the beach one would expect in the Caribbean or South America. It sounds like a small dog is barking throughout but it turns out to be a cuica, a Brazilian friction drum.
Django Reinhardt and Gypsy jazz serve as inspirations to the ensembles Rossomalpelo (“Il Mare Mi Salva”) and Lu Colombo & Maurizio Gei Swingtet (“Gina”) in their offerings. When I heard Giorgio Conte’s “Balla Con Me,” his deep vocals brought to mind Leonard Cohen although it was contrasted with a jaunty, upbeat arrangement. Cohen is cited in the liner notes about the man some consider his Italian counterpart, Gianmaria Testa, but I didn’t notice the similarity on “Il Viaggio."
Countries also have influence on the selections here. Rocco De Rosa plays the jazz instrumental “Iquique,” named after a town in Chile where his grandfather emigrated. Canadian Marco Calliari is the son of Italian immigrants and he performs “L’Americano,” a song about an Italian wanting to be an American.
The liner notes offer a recipe for Penne “Al Brucio” from Fortunato Nicotra of Felidia in New York City and inform the buyer “1% of Putumayo’s proceeds from the sale of this CD will be donated to EMERGENCY,” an organization that provides medical services to “civilian victims of war, landmines and poverty.” While there is an occasional translation of lyrics, entire songs would have been much more useful.
Running under 38 minutes, Italia is serviceable if shopping for books or sitting in a coffee shop, but it wouldn’t be my first choice to create a sense of Italy. In short, this album is to Italian music what Olive Garden is to Italian food.