Tag Archives: u2

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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Daniel Lanois – in the Flesh, with Machines

lanois_sample2Daniel Lanois is the famous producer, engineer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist from Canada, whose work with U2, Peter Gabriel, Brian Eno and others are often award winning milestones for those artists. Peter Gabriel’s So and U2’s The Joshua Tree come immediately to mind. What would be less familiar to many listeners are his solo albums, each a unique and beautiful work of art – some song-driven with vocals, and others instrumental.

lanois_acadieLanois had plenty of time as producer and engineer from 1976 through the 80’s before he released his first and arguably greatest record, Acadie (1989). Flavored with bayou blues, Cajun folk, and ambient, flowing soundscapes, Acadie also includes Daniel’s beautiful lead vocals, some in English, others in French. The opening pair of rock hymnals, “Still Water” and “The Maker” still make their way into his set lists. “The Maker” is a spiritual song that sets the tone for the rest of the album, beginning with some choice lyrics:

Oh, oh, deep water
Black and cold like the night
I stand with arms wide open
I’ve run a twisted line
I’m a stranger in the eyes of the Maker

lanois_jimMy favorite is the haunting, bewitching track “St Ann’s Gold” that’s just Daniel and his guitar with a bit of synth backing – a serene masterpiece. Guest collaborators include Brian Eno, the Neville brothers, and U2’s backing band. Musically the record is a combination of many influences, expressed with heavy guitar atmospherics, backed by Eno’s ambient keyboard soundscapes. It’s an instant classic that belongs in every music lover’s collection. Other releases by Lanois that I would highlight include the follow up For the Beauty of Wynona (1993) that’s much like Acadie, Belladonna (2005), an instrumental album featuring his astonishing steel pedal guitar, and Black Dub (2010) on which he partnered with Trixie Whitley for her soulful vocals.

lanois_sample1Lanois’ most recent release, Flesh and Machine, is another fascinating album that focuses on his instrumental, ambient side. It’s the closest he’s come to the work he did with Brian Eno in the early 80’s, but with a darker, brooding palette. Of this record, Daniel states, “I decided to be as inventive as I can be and try and take people on a journey, the way I remember records did when I was a kid — you know, you’d put on an album and trip out to it and feel like a different person after listening.” I took the opportunity to go on that trip, and see him perform live at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco, on November 17, 2014.

The shlanois_slideow was also itself on the dark and brooding side, as is the new work that made up most of the set list. Daniel spent much of the time hunched over a set of keys triggered gadgets that used samples of guitar, steel guitar, piano and voice to create the sound palette from which he dubbed and processed live on the stage. For several tracks, he came up front to play that steel pedal guitar, and for the encores took center stage to perform a few earlier tracks on guitar and vocals including “The Maker”.

lanois_brianA highlight of the show was Daniel’s long time drummer, Brian Blade, who I first saw on his 1993 tour playing a finely tuned kit with both his hands and sticks. Brian is a first rate musician who played superbly as usual, slipping in between the seams on quieter works, or driving the sonically aggressive parts with his jazz-influenced leads. Bassist Jim Wilson deftly alternated between electric bass and upright bass pedals to color the lanois_videolower end and harmonize with Daniel on the few vocal tracks. The visuals significantly added to the show as the lighting tech used a video toaster type of process to manipulate short films and images in union with the beat, and to great psychedelic effect. Catch this tour in your town should it make the journey, and witness this artist in the flesh, and with his machines.

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