Paolo Conte

Nelson

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Paolo Conte's output remained typically peerless, but slowed considerably after the '80s. In this light, the only thing surprising about Nelson is its appearance barely two years after Conte's last, Psiche. Other than showing Conte's renewed interest in studio albums (his creativity had never tired, but had been occupied with all sorts of theatrical and art projects), Nelson is another routinely excellent Conte collection, made up of 15 impeccable usual suspects culled from his cosmopolitan -- if definitely old-world -- universe of vaudeville, chanson, jazz, ragtime, milonga, and waltz, all done the unique Conte way. In this context, singing in Italian, French, English, Spanish, and Neapolitan comes off not as an attempt to please his many international fans, but simply as a reflection of Conte's influences, and the record flows between languages as naturally as it does between musical genres. Dedicated to two friends who had passed away, his dog Nelson and his lifelong manager Renzo Fantini, in Conte's discography this album stands pretty much in between his last two offerings, the piano-and-voice selections recalling the intimacy of 2004's Elegia and the orchestral numbers (not to mention a few electronic touches) following up on the arrangements and sound of 2008's Psiche. It is hard to pinpoint highlights out of such a stylistically consistent artist, but the ballad "Clown" is a Conte standard in the making, the Weimar drunken circus atmosphere of "Sotto la Luna Bruna" would have made Tom Waits proud, and the pitch-perfect tribute to P.G. Wodehouse, "Jeeves," is a match made in heaven, as Conte's humorous characters are all in some way or another failed aristocrats with bohemian delusions, or its exact reverse, down-and-out bohemians with aristocratic delusions. You may always know what you're in for, but by the same token you can never go wrong with Paolo Conte.

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