Eugenio Finardi - Anima Blues
Re- Introducing A Major Italian Rocker's Scorching All-Blues English Album
Released in March 2006 this CD -- in some markets -- passed under the radar but should have been widely heard by aficionados of the blues especially in the United States and other English-speaking countries.
Americana, folk, blues, roots music – nowadays it comes from many more places than just America as this collection attests. Canada, Australia, New Zealand and England have all made viable contributions to this music genre -- but Italy?This LP recorded, written and performed by respected Italian rocker Eugenio Finardi – don’t let the Italian name fool you – Mr. Finardi is quite proficient writing in English and singing -- with no accent -- as he is in Italian. Having amassed a steady respectable discography both in English and Italian since the early 70’s his thirty year diversified career substantiates that Eugenio Finardi has the ability to share the stage with any major rock star in the world.
Eugenio is also a major label recording artist (having been with Warner Bros in the past) but, unfortunately, due to red tape and the fickle business of the recording industry his material is still released selectively.
The recording of “Anima Blues” live…they sing like this in Italy? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGMa4PZLTnU
That aside, the focus is on his more recent work and this time it's an all-English album – his second. In 1982 he released a fantastically aggressive heavy rocker of an album called “Secret Streets,” which should have received major airplay in the States had anyone heard it.
Finardi, from Milan, Italy and born to an Italian father and American mother -- an opera singer – afforded him exposure to American music including rock and blues. Maturing and spreading his influence through the years in Italy, Finardi slowly and methodically began to shape his love for American blues one song at a time and always managed to include a little sampling in his Italian and English releases.
One particular venture was “Secret Streets,” where he included a Chuck Berry influenced track called “Corrina” (sample on Grooveshark). Instead of soloing with a guitar, he added a touch of Italian musical ingenuity and chose a clarinet to take the rock instrumental solo – and it worked.
But, on this new labor of love -- an all-English album “Anima Blues,” it’s all blues seeped in a deep American tradition with Italian grits, grease and genius. Eugenio does what any Northern Italian would do to any existing recipe -- add ingredients no one else would.
Isn't it true that the Chinese invented the noodle we call spaghetti? But, it was the Italian who put the meat or tomato sauce on it with some grated cheese and it has since become a legend in food circles.
The word “anima” is defined as psyche, soul and spirit. On this collection there are moments when the originally smooth yet, classically aggressive Finardi rock vocals venture into the nether land between Long John Baldry and Tom Waits growl. This is obviously an entirely new chapter in the Finardi musical canon...deliciously sliced.
On his early 70’s Italian track “Soldi” (Money) from thje album "Sugo "and “Tutto Subito,” (All At Once) from "Diesel, " it’s all bad boy Finardi filtered through masterful Rolling Stones riffs and energy that even Keith Richards would envy especially as Finardi splashes thunderous drums around a fiery rock and roll violin. But no one in America who loves rock even knew some of the best early 70's rock was being created by someone with lots of vowels in his name. And he was creating a cauldron of brilliant rock in Northern Italy.
If ever there was an “unknown” musician in America who deserved a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this is the man. The early tracks confirm it -- "Soldi," "Musica Ribelle," "Tutto Subito," and dozens more in both languages. Lots of crunchy guitars, maniacal violin, lead heavy bass, thunderous drums and most importantly -- melody.
“Anima Blues,” is a different animal however. This is decades later. No reason to prove anything to anyone except please himself with his first love. It’s dirtier sounding, closer to the ground music.
“Mama Left Me,” is swampy in a Tony Joe White manner, propelled by a nasty guitar lick and Finardi’s growl as black as an Italian from Milan can get without changing his stripes altogether. Deep Hammond organ weaves in and out like voodoo and the quieter passages of this track are haunting.
“Heart of the Country,” opens with a Ry Cooder-inspired slide guitar that gently tempts your ears as the melody line takes shape. Finardi is restrained and his English is superlative in this poignant blues narrative. Under-stated organ, imaginative slide woven like a spider web. You would think a European would inject tons of American-English clichés into tunes like this but Finardi is too professional, experienced, clever and polished for that.
“Pipe Dream,” has a driving open -- lots of guitar energy and offering an alternative to Finardi’s signature vocal delivery. He utilizes backup singers just below the surface as support and the song’s attractiveness is the guitar work throughout.
Then comes “Holyland,” with vintage style guitar and what sounds like a mix of blues / gospel. The Stevie Winwood inspired organ percolates and these guys can be stamped...authentic.
When this album was first released I remember reading in one of the trades that it surprisingly was picked up by some Texas radio stations and made their playlists. I wasn't surprised.
“Long Way Home,” is another pensive ballad with Finardi’s sensitive vocals. He uses his ability to use his higher registers and full throat vocals with ease. This track sounds like a tune Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris or even Buddy Miller could cover. No reason a song such as this shouldn’t be on major college radio stations and FM Rock stations stuck between Springsteen, John Haitt, Steve Earle and Bob Dylan.
“Marta’s Dream,” is an instrumental interlude and opens with acoustic finger picking not generally associated with the blues but definitely down home melodic playing loaded with sentimentality. This is hardly reminiscent of Italian music from an Italian performer and Mr. Finardi is obviously a student of the blues who never missed a class.How many musicians today can draw emotion out of you with a simple instrumental?
“Mojo Philtre,” is a potent classic tradition blues-rocker. Finardi at his growling American blues best. Snapping drums, bleeding bass notes, sweet organ flourishes, swarming guitars among a soulful backup vocalist exchange. This too, has a nice feel similar to the groove that Stevie Winwood and Traffic used to weave.
“Estrellita,” is Spanish tradition inspired blues. Finardi is tequila drenched and sounding very much like the late Willy DeVille with that brilliant seductive too many cigarettes and whiskey vocal. This one has a tight arrangement – and voodoo scented guitar notes that follow like a wisp of smoke behind the tale Eugenio weaves through the cafes and bistros. Where seductive women hide behind their glasses, castanets and black widow fans. The Hammond organ solo paints some optimism into the melody but that ever present kiss of death guitar is always there – like the characters in the Orson Welles film Touch of Evil. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DmIwZ2WrAes
“Barnyard Mama,” hits the ground right out of the crate. Comes barreling in like a 50’s rockabilly track with striding guitars and drum shuffle. Finardi showcases his excellent rock and roll vocals. Superlative guitars come rocking into this track.
Obviously, Finardi has not forgotten what made some of the late 60's music so attractive. Is it retro? Not at all. It has a drive and arrangement that simply takes this music into a new century. Just listen to the finale where two lead guitars battle for space. Ingenious. All this from someone not from the hills of Tennessee.
So while younger artists continue to mine the Nirvana, Pearl Jam grunge mother lode vocal style, or veer toward the safety of the textures of Dave Matthews, David Gray or Damien Rice -- or even attempt the individual powerful voice of a Springsteen, John Mellancamp or Van Morrison -- Finardi chisels hard at the flint and steel that made that earlier blues/rock incendiary.
From Muddy Waters up through Elvis Presley by way of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and the likes of Jon Dee Graham and John Baldry. That's where you will find the blues of Signor Padrone Finardi.
“Doctor, Doctor” slows things down – as the pacing should. The blues isn't always about the fire -- but the quality of the smoke. The sound of the guitar and harmonica here is nasty good. This track is short but, it’s all you need to know that this effort is the real deal and Finardi can easily sting the heart.
Up next -- a six minute cover of the classic “Spoonful,” to solidify the authenticity of these Italian blues artists. Vocals snarl in the ears like a shot of Jack Daniels whiskey on an uninitiated tongue. Guitars are tight knots of notes and they decorate the repetition that has made this blues a classic gospel. Exhilarating Hammond organ, followed by another bluesy guitar sermon. Six minutes well spent. John Mayall, Captain Beefheart, Eric Clapton and Willie Dixon himself would be proud.
“Sweet Surrender,” concludes what I believe is an excellent blues album. The tune is a slow drizzle of syrup with Finardi singing in a higher register but the words bend like twigs into a seductive roots-inflected plea. With a typical blues progression, the splendor of this track is how timeless and attractive such a potent melody can continue to be. I can imagine what Billie Holiday would have done had she an opportunity to cover this song. Wrenching, like squeezing every drop of water out of a dish rag.
Eugenio Finardi has a large audience – and many Americans only now becoming familiar with him thanks to YouTube and other sources.
But, he has always been a major artist with marvelous material and exhilarating performances that should not be ignored. His blues, hard rock, ballads -- Italian or English -- straddles the entire river of great music in his career.
On some of his Italian albums he has samples of English tracks that are splendid. On “Roccando Rollando,” – there’s the sharp slicing guitar and drum driven “Song Fly High.”
“Secret Streets,” is the all English rock LP from the 80's that has some sample tracks on Grooveshark – “Hostages,” “Secret Streets,” “Mayday” "Beyond the Icy Rings of Saturn," "Rock Seeds" (Italian versions are on a separate LP).
He covered Danny Kotchmar’s “Machine Gun Kelly,” a version of Jimi Hendrix’s “The Wind Cries Mary,” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
"Rock and Roll City," -- recorded in New York City is sung half in Italian and half in English brilliantly. The groove is pure rock the old-fashioned way and the Italian does not intrude on the ears of people who don't understand the language. The melody and message are that powerful.
The last time I came across a vocalist who did it all -- rock, country, folk, blues, Gospel, ballads, middle-of-the-road and show tunes with equal intensity -- was named Elvis Presley. Finardi comes real close and he even includes reggae tunes ("Jamaica Farewell") in his repertoire. He does it all.
Over a thirty-years famous musicians in various genres have played with Eugenio: including Joni Mitchell and Jeff Beck drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. Finardi wrote and recorded the Italian version of Joan Osborne's "One of Us," ("Uno di Noi") which was originally written by The Hooters' Eric Bazilian. “Anima Blues” includes these fine Italian musicians: Pippo Guarnera, Vince Vallicelli and Massimo Martellotta.
If you appreciate the blues, treat yourself to something special and unique from an unlikely source. I learned to never under-estimate any musician -- no matter where they come from. I'll bet my next blues or jazz find will be from Russia.
Grooveshark Samples: http://grooveshark.com/#!/search?q=eugenio+finardi
New website under construction: http://www.eugeniofinardi.it/sessanta.html
Disclaimer: The opinion expressed in this review / commentary are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of No Depression.
John Apice – Contributor – No Depression – December 2013