Tag Archives: soul

Zucchero Sweetens the Palace

Zucchero_blackcatusacanadaMy wife and I were very fortunate last weekend to attend the San Francisco stop on the latest tour of Italian superstar Adelmo “Zucchero” Fornaciari. This man known simply as “Zucchero” who reportedly first picked up a guitar the year I graduated high school in 1978 somehow escaped our attention until the turn of the century, when we travelled to Sienna Italy and were surrounded by posters of his then new tour, supporting the album Shake (2001). We knew of Italian progressive rockers Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) and in a sort of happy coincidence were stopping in Pennsylvania on the way home from Italy to see a rare appearance by that band at a prog music festival. But we also picked up Zucchero’s decidedly not-prog record, learning that it was recorded near our Zucchero_Shakehome in Sausalito, then back in Italy, finally mixing and mastering at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios. It was a certified hit for Zucchero – an album of boisterous, life-affirming music. We instantly fell in love with the man and his work. From the strength of that initial exposure we started our collection, which now includes the newest, Black Cat (2016). We more recently snatched up tickets to what ended up being a fantastico, bellissimo, heart-rending blues and soul infused evening of music last Sunday night.

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What we’ve learned is what many readers may already know, and I recommend the rest of you learn, that Zucchero’s career spans more than three decades, with worldwide record sales over 60 million and an impressive collection of awards and accolades received over those years. The gospel, blues, soul and rock music influenced artist is considered to be “the father of the Italian blues.” Zucchero, meaning ‘sugar’ in Italian, is a nickname given to Adelmo by a schoolteacher when he was just a young boy growing up in Roncocesi, Italy. It’s an appropriate moniker for the musician whose work is often about love and whose presence on stage exudes joy, passion and positivity. When sampling Zucchero’s work for the first time, take the time to browse a variety of his albums/songs and notice that much of his work is akin to listening to many of those he has collaborated with over the years (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, Peter Gabriel and so many more), while drawing strongly from his native Italian roots.

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Black Cat is a return to the artist’s much beloved blues & soul style work, and as such is being compared to his fourth studio album, oro incenso e mirra (“gold, incense & beer) in 1990. We read that the latest album was inspired while touring the southern U.S. and that Zucchero wrote the songs much as he did in the early days of his career, when things were more simple and he didn’t have as much to lose and didn’t care about the logic of the market. The album features among others the song S.O.S. (Streets of Surrender) penned by long time friend, Bono of U2. The song, born on the wave of terrorist attacks in Paris last November is a hymn against such hatred and violence.

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Zucchero’s March 19th, 2017 show at the San Francisco Palace of the Fine Arts not only joyfully delivered most of the tracks off of Black Cat, but with more than 30 tracks on the set list, it also included so many of his audience’s favorite songs spanning the past few decades, from the sexy Baila Morena (Shake 2001 – Spanish Version), to the passionate duet with Pavarotti Miserere (Miserere 1992), the soulfully beautiful Bacco Perbacco (Fly 2006), Un Soffio Caldo (Chocobeck 2012 – track titled Life on English version) and so many more. The band, which included exceptional musicians on violin, keyboards, slide guitar/guitar, bass, and drums, was top of class. Special guest Corrado Rustici, who worked on Shake, joined them on guitar for one track. The backdrop was, appropriately a framed heart, which was set off by moody low lighting, approaching brighter tones only when raising the house lights that illuminated the cheering crowd of both faithful followers and the newly informed.

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Though Zucchero occasionally sings in English, it’s when you listen to his sultry, whisky voice singing passionately in his native Italian tongue or occasional Spanish that you truly ‘feel’ his work. This is what we felt Sunday night, as the artist focused much less on any pop trappings, and absolutely more so his sultry, bluesy, and heartfelt work delivered in the more romantic languages. During one of only a couple breaks between songs, after apologizing the his English was “not so good,” Zucchero explained that he grew up listing to the music of many English artists, finding that even though he had no clue what they were saying, the “music spoke” to him, adding:

Music talk. You don’t have to understand everything. It’s the vibe, the feeling…

That we understood completely, as it was our experience that night, not knowing Italian beyond a few key words like Amore. Didn’t matter in the least, in fact it made the evening a unique and special experience. It certainly helped that Italian Americans and travelers at the show enthusiastically poured their affections out verbally and visibly all around us, helping to highlight what is so meaningful about Zucchero’s songs and lyrics. Catch this legendary artist in concert if you possibly can. Your heart will thank you.

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Stevie Wonder Sings in the Key of Love

stevie2Stevie Wonder played at the Oakland Arena Friday December 5, 2014 performing his 1976 masterwork, Songs In The Key of Life. He arrived amidst a series of tense protests in Oakland and across the country over the grand jury verdict that declined to indict a white New York cop over the choke-hold death of Eric Garner, a black man who was stopped by police for selling loose cigarettes earlier this year. While protesters took to the streets just blocks away from the concert venue, and even shut down highway 880 outside, Stevie took the stage to urge love and harmony for all people, acknowledging that there is still far to go with race relations, before launching into the entire 22 song suite for a show that lasted more than three rapturous hours.

stevie5The “Songs in the Key of Life” album is one of Stevie’s most accomplished, and certainly includes many of his most meaningful, touching lyrics. Some speak to race relations, but more reflect the positive experiences of his childhood, and praise God and love eternal. These messages were perfectly suited for the evening, and as he went through the set, key songs were introduced with stories and short statements. The album was presented in it’s entirety, beginning after a lengthy introduction and welcome, followed by a beautiful rendition of the first song, “Love’s In Need of Love Today” clearly articulating it’s sentiments in his undiminished tone:

stevie4Love’s in need of love today
Don’t delay
Send yours in right away
Hate’s goin’ round
Breaking many hearts
Stop it please
Before it’s gone too far

stevie_historiaEach song was presented as it’s own work of musical art, some with just Stevie and one or two accompanists, others with up to thirty backup musicians and singers, some part of the main band, some guests. The entire album was delivered at the highest level of excellence of any show I’ve seen. Stevie was in perfect voice, demonstrating his immense skills as a vocalist, and player of harmonica, piano, synthesizer, and other instruments. The music travels a wide range including R&B, soul, funk, gospel, fusion, and a dash of rock and it seemed perfectly fitting for such a substantial entourage to reproduce them. For the second track, Stevie brought India Ari to the fore singing “Have a Talk With God.” stevie_passtimeThe next track, “Village Ghetto Land” was performed by Stevie with just his ten-piece orchestra – a heartbreaking story of poverty and despair in the inner city. The six-piece horn section punctuated celebratory tracks “Sir Duke” and “I Wish” just as one would dare to hope. Bass from original collaborator Nathan Watts, along with three keyboard players, three guitarists, and as many drummers pumped up funky tracks like “Contusion” and “Black Man.” Backup singers included Stevie’s daughter, Aisha, herself introduced for the song “Isn’t She Lovely” written for her almost 40 years ago. All the performers rose to the occasion, surely realizing they were not just playing a normal concert, but performing one of the greatest albums of our time, with one of our greatest artists.

steve_harmonicaThe highlight for this witness were the last few songs, each a different ode to love. First, a wonderful version of “If It’s Magic” – Stevie singing along with a recording of original harpist Dorthy Ashby encouraging the crowd that “we must become more of a united people of these United States” with the lyrics,

If it’s magic
Why can’t we make it everlasting
Like the lifetime of the sun
It will leave no heart undone
For there’s enough for everyone

stevie_bandThis was followed by the one-two punch of “As” and “Another Star” the latter’s salsa beat punctuated by Oakland native’s Sheila E.’s raucous percussion at which point more than thirty performers covered the stage in praise and celebration. There were generous encores and fun after the main set, but I could have left then, feeling as full of joy as after any concert I’ve seen. Stevie took us to church that night, reminding us it’s possible to live in harmony, that there is more to do in our lives, more people to touch, and more to give. Until the day that is the day we are no more. Love, in.