Metro's world music compilations vary widely in quality. Some of them feature few or no original versions of the songs they collect, substituting cookie-cutter re-recordings that only give a feeling of what the music is like, instead of presenting the authentic music of the place the album supposedly celebrates. Cafe Italia is one of the label's better collections, featuring original versions of songs by Italian crooners like Carlo Buti and Claudio Villa, as well as renditions of famous Italian instrumentals by the Mandolins of Genny Esposito. Not surprisingly, these acts provide some of the album's highlights, including Buti's "Primo Amore," Villa's "Scanlinatella," and the Mandolins of Genny Esposito's "Funiculi Funicula." However, Tito Schipa's "Vivere" and Beniamino Gigli's "O Sole Mio" also define the passionate, romantic sound of Italy on which this collection focuses. The scratchy sound quality on some of the recordings -- particularly Enrico Caruso's "Santa Lucia" -- may be a drawback for some listeners, though one could argue that it heightens the nostalgic quality that is evoked by the album. Providing plenty of quality as well as quantity, Cafe Italia is a thoroughly enjoyable collection, and one of the best that Metro has to offer.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares