First released as a five-song EP on an Italian label in 1988 and re-released as a full CD in 2007 with extra live tracks on LTM, Brown Plays Tenco finds Steven Brown and various compatriots interpreting the work of cult '60s Italian pop singer Luigi Tenco, noted for his sharp, strong singing and songwriting as well as his melodramatic suicide. The original studio tracks, with Tuxedomoon bandmate Peter Principle among the backing musicians, are enjoyable electronic-rock fusions in keeping with Brown's general work, interpreting Tenco's performances for a newer era. The one English-language translation, "Lontano Lontano," brings the elegant but wracked and haunted power of Tenco's work to a wider audience, while the remaining four find Brown assaying the originals quite well, from the brawling kick of the aggressive "Ciao Amore!" to the stark sorrow of "Vedrai Vedrai." The live tracks come from two separate Italian dates in 1988, the first batch with a quintet lineup and the remainder featuring only Brown and pianist Daniele Biagini. Both sets are well recorded and, some track duplication aside, feature different foci -- the quintet tracks mostly consist of Brown's own songs, including the galloping piano-led "Lowlands Tone Poem" and the drama-ridden "What Use?" "Vedrai Vedrai" gets an airing similar to the studio take. In contrast, the duo performances that conclude the disc take a further look at Tenco's work, aside from an opening medley of "What Use?" and "Lowlands Tone Poem." The version of "Lontano Lontano" is as lovelorn as the EP take but perhaps even more affecting with the stripped-down arrangement, while Brown's additional instrumental parts on sax and clarinet add nicely to Biagini's good keyboard work. As ever, the LTM version's liner notes are exhaustive, including biographies of both Tenco and Brown.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett