Barbara Belloni featuring Four Fried Fish | Photographs & Memories – Tribute to Jim Croce

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07.01.2013..

Jim Croce belongs to that kind of musicians lucky as for talent, but unlucky because an adverse fate has ripped out their life prematurely. What remains is only the regret of imagining what they could have done to express their creativity in a longer career. In fact, in September 1973, at the age of thirty, Jim died in an air crash. A destiny shared with other genial artists like Buddy Holly, Otis Redding and Stevie Ray Vaughan: each of them unique, but all masters in leaving an unforgettable mark in the music history.

 

Certainly, Croce has not had the revolutionary rock’n’roll impact of Holly, neither the overflowing soul energy of Otis, nor has been one of the monster case of man/guitar fusion represented by Vaughan: all people with artistic super powers that have projected them in the firmament of icons. Jim was more discreet, confidential, almost timid, a common person. He has bequeathed some tens of song that seem apparently simple, but dense of textual and musical contents, with a mix of folk, country and American blues motifs. Songs cut for a loner performance, in a duo, or in a small band. In my opinion, he has been a precursor and his influence is clearly present in the whole movement of the American songwriters that originates from Pete Seeger, Guthrie father and son, Johnny Cash, and passes through Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel, Carole King, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, up to John Mellencamp, John Hiatt and Springsteen, among the others.

 

Jim Croce's compositions have a dual dimension. On one hand, they are condensate stories in short lines, which, in turn, are sorted in complete harmonic and musical structures, apparently definitive. On the other hand, they show an open interpretative potential. Hence, they can be performed by anybody that wants to remodel them with a sensitiveness and a different artistic background but, most of all, with love.

 

Actually, the record I am reviewing is a real act of love: a desire ripened in course of time and accomplished. Marco Lincetto, producer and talent-scout, as well as owner of Velut Luna label makes it clear: "I fell in love with Jim Croce more than thirty years ago, when here just few people knew who he was - editor's note: I was one of the few, Marco! - Finally... Finally I made it!". With such authentic, sentimental premises comes to life the Tribute to Jim Croce project, named after one of his compositions, Photographs & Memories. About forty years from his passing. It is not a common album of covers, as you can easily find into a record store - Do they exist anymore? Sigh! - with grim commercial ops and despicable exploitation of the copyrights of authors already deceased. And also the term tribute does not fit well. In the inner notes of the cover Lincetto comes clean with open-hearth: "... here I am, finally, to pay homage to an artist who has been and is important to me and to many other people who have loved and love his songs". The statement hides an imploration to be involved, to share.

 

The songs, indeed: the tracks are neither among the most known nor among the most beautiful. But, in this context, they reach a level of splendor that the author would have not disliked. Just to start, Marco has entrusted himself to a woman's voice: and what a voice! Barbara Belloni, amazing rock singer and iconographically very American. Look at her portrayed wearing a cowgirl hat and her head reclined on a Stratocaster neck: behind that dark brim could hide Susan Tedeschi, or Rory Block, Maria Muldaur, or Rickie Lee Jones. Her excellent English helps to enfranchise this work from whatever nationalistic constraint and an appreciation abroad would not represent, in my opinion, indeed a surprise. Also the band of the Four Fried Fish, formed by Fabio Ranghiero on piano and Hammond, Flamiano Mazzaron on guitars, dobro and mandolin, Alessandro Arcuri on bass and Alberto Toninelli on drums, can be considered as the henchmen of Lincetto's idea. And all the components are totally involved in the work concept, caring out among the tracks tiny interludes defined as memory, which are very personal musical sketches composed on a free interpretation of the favorite songs of the Philadelphian songwriter. Fabio is the maker of all the arrangements.

 

A long time ago, in the original version, is a sad ballad and tells about how the life of a dreamer has changed after the meeting with a girl who shares his path, even just singing his song. The guitars of Jim and of the faithful Maury Muehleisen interlace in a soft and sweet way with some orchestral insertions, always at the service of the ballad. The tribute version lasts a triple time and is introduced by a compelling percussion strut and few notes of piano: it changes rhythm and breadth whenever Barbara starts singing with her proverbial energy. The alternating of the piano and the forte gives to the piece an amazing dynamics, up to the final crescendo with the dobro as a protagonist.

I got a name is a song written by Norman Gimbel and Charles Fox. Jim loved this song because it reminded his father, who had dreamed his success, but had died before becoming true. The theme is about pride, about one's own name, about one's song, about being free and having a dream, besides the desire of living a full life. Differently from Jim's interpretation, based on voices, guitars and piano, this version keeps the melodic pace, but adds an incisive Hammond and a bodied rhythmic section. Belloni's voice is sweeter and respectful of the lyrical meaning.   

After the first memory by Flamiano Mazzaron, for guitar and mandolin, there is You don’t mess around with Jim. A typical blues structure with a dobro attack a la Cooder. You can breathe Delta's air, with a metronomic drum set and Barbara's black voice perfect to tell the story of Big Jim Walker who had left from an Alabama honky-tonk bar to consume a revenge against a crook, but at the end he has been hit by this swindler and mocked by a chorus singing You don’t mess around with Slim. The southern style of the track is accentuated by the presence of a piano talking to a vibrant bottleneck in an alternation of solo and accompaniment. Five minutes of pure entertainment.

Photographs & memories is a song that touches the feelings and moves when speaks of a love that remains only in the Christmas Cards and the memories emerge again during the night, taking you away in another time where the days were happy and people so connected that did not want to say good-bye. Great the piano attack in a classical form that then changes into a ballad with a cantato of strong feeling, almost whispered, feeble, that becomes lively again at the moment of the memory and beat by the mini piano sonatas. The changes in tone follow the lyrics themes and the incessant ensuing of humble rhythms, pauses, crescendos and full instrumentals, keep the album in a constant tension, stimulating the attention and the listening.

Five short minutes is one of those pieces that could be considered as the soundtrack of a coast to coast journey through the American freeways that cross the deserts. Jim Croce's version, very electrified and rich, is given here in an acoustic version with the Hammond organ in rhythm & blues key, a caressed drum set and Barbara's voice, always adequate, that tells of the traps that are behind five minutes of love, so dangerous that you can go to jail for twenty years.

After the second memory, prerogative of Arcuri and his bass, it is the time of Operator, the most emblematic piece of Jim Croce's compositional nature. It tells about a conversation with a telephone operator trying to find the number of the first love, who has moved to Los Angeles with an old friend. He found the number but is so excited that cannot read it and, therefore, he gives up. The song is a jewel. All the instruments seem living the tormented situation and dance around Barbara's sore voice. Delicious are the guitar frameworks that fill the sad scenarios of the song.

What follows is a memory for voice only, with Belloni as a protagonist. I remember her is a track that narrates of a flirt with a Parisian flower girl, where the difficulty in communicating is compensated by the intensity of the gazes, smiles, warmth in offering themselves. Knowing that the story could not be durable, the memory of the girl is strong and she disappears all at once among the crowd with the flowers in her hands. The arrangement is light, whispered and interprets coherently the pleasure that has been lived, without any regret, in a déjà vu of happiness. The vocal expression is almost childish, sometimes filtered, absorbed in a watercolor of delicate instruments, and amalgamated by the Hammond in constant background.

In the last memory, Fabio Ranghiero brings us towards the last two pieces of the work. The first one is Speedball tucker, a sanguine country rock about a mad truck driver who drives overloaded with rain and snow, a real terror of the highway, till a policeman fines him and mocks him telling that 95 was the route number and not the speed limit. This is the ideal track for Barbara where she can finally releases all the energy of her vocal cords. Also the band hammers but without prevaricating the rock soul of the vocalist.

The last song is Time in a bottle, a classical sad song a la Croce, written when he knew that his wife Ingrid was pregnant. He touched the themes of immortality, the short time at disposal, the desire of being able to preserve every day in a bottle, as he knew the imminent tragedy. The atmosphere is dark, dramatic, the arrangement is mainly based on voice and piano. Then the song changes and the end is all instrumental, slightly jazzy, liberating, celebratory, touching.

 

The entire album is rigorously acoustic and each track has been rewritten with innovative and fresh arrangements although respectful of the contest and original message. I believe that all the feelings and the moods of the artist are proposed with deference towards his talent. The CD is a 24 bit/88.2 kHz direct sound recording and it has been realized in the Velut Luna studios with the usual masterwork of producing, recording, mastering and mixing by Marco Lincetto with in his head an idea of analogue sound without despising the possibilities offered by the modern technical means. I want to add that Fabio Ranghiero plays a Steinway & Sons D274 grand piano and a Hammond C3, while Alessandro Arcuri employs a preamplifier for bass: Monique, by Jule Amps.

 

I strongly recommend this album: it is a work made with care, application, passion, affection and constitutes a splendid occasion to enter in Jim Croce's world, here represented in a unique celebrative way.

 

Thanks Marco, you are a brave man.

 

 

Barbara Belloni featuring Four Fried Fisch

Photographs & memories - Tribute to Jim Croce

Velut Luna

CD

Total time 48’26’’

2012

 

 

 

AUTHOR’S CUT | INQUIRY SUPPLEMENT

Buona sera, Giuseppe,

ho girato... la sua bellissima recensione ai componenti della band che la ringraziano con tutto il cuore delle bellissime parole spese a favore del nostro lavoro.
La sua "guida all'ascolto" ci ha veramente entusiasmati e resi felici di aver avuto un così professionale e autorevole, ma anche appassionato, ascoltatore come lei.
E' per noi un vero onore aver avuto la possibilità di render omaggio nella maniera forse più consona (cioè con un interpretazione personale e non un "copia-incolla") a un grande artista come Jim Croce.
Barbara non legge spesso le mail ma sono sicuro che in questi giorni arriverà anche da lei un ringraziamento personale.
Speriamo questo progetto possa avere lunga vita e attenzione da parte di un pubblico più vasto in modo che Jim Croce possa essere conosciuto e apprezzato.

Flamiano... ma anche Barbara, Fabio, Alessandro e Alberto

08/01/2013

 

Carissimo Giuseppe,

vorrei ringraziarla personalmente per la splendida recensione che ha scritto sul nostro disco Photographs & Memories.

Innanzitutto mi scuso per il ritardo con cui rispondo: faccio parte di quella schiera di persone che non hanno confidenza con il computer. Per me non è il mezzo più adatto per esprimermi nè la prima scelta per comunicare, anche se mi rendo perfettamente conto dell'obsolescenza del mio habitus mentale a questo riguardo.

Veniamo a noi: raramente mi è capitato di leggere una recensione così precisa e puntuale. Le dico questo perché lei ha avuto la capacità e la sensibilità, oltre che l'attenzione, di cogliere dal primo all'ultimo pezzo le intenzioni, le sfumature, finanche le incertezze che ognuno di noi ha saputo e voluto trasfondere in questo lavoro. Questo disco ci ha coinvolti moltissimo ed ha richiesto un'accurata preparazione e tanto studio, ma anche tanto del nostro cuore e della nostra capacità di esprimere emozioni; credo sia quello che nel nostro mestiere fa la differenza.

Dalle sue parole emerge una grande preparazione, su molti livelli: biografico, tecnico, musicale, ma anche la sensibilità propria di chi è veramente innamorato della musica ed è consapevole con cognizione di causa di tutto ciò che sta all'origine e attorno ad un prodotto di questo genere.

Giustissime, inoltre, le parole che ha speso per Marco Lincetto, deus ex machina competente, generoso e visionario. Noi per primi lo ringraziamo per l'opportunità che ci ha dato.

Ritengo un grande onore per noi l'aver avuto la fortuna di essere passati sotto il suo competente vaglio e di esserne usciti con così grande soddisfazione.

Spero di avere un giorno la possibilità di conoscerla personalmente per poterla ringraziare a voce; sono certa che lo stesso valga per i bravissimi musicisti con cui ho la fortuna di condividere questo viaggio meraviglioso.

Con stima e ammirazione,

Barbara Belloni

16/01/2013

by Giuseppe Trotto
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