Paolo Conte


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Elegia was Paolo Conte's first proper studio album in nine years. At 67, no one could blame him if he decided to slow down a little. Yet, in the evidence of this fine album, it seems clear the reasons for such a delay had little to do with any lack of creativity. Instead, it was probably a consequence of Conte's growing international reputation (two acclaimed U.S. compilations, The Best of Paolo Conte and Reveries, were released during this period, and subsequently Conte added the U.S. to his already busy touring schedule), as well as the fulfillment of a lifelong ambition, the multimedia musical Razmataz. Elegia represents a return to the elegantly austere atmospheres of his 1987 masterpiece, Aguaplano, and stands in stark contrast to the luxurious orchestral trend of Conte's albums in the 1990s. In virtually every track, the spotlight is squarely on Conte's piano and voice. Gone are the extra vocalists or the full swing band numbers, and the horns and strings are subtly muted so as to offer a delicate accompaniment, rather than to lead the festivities. As its title suggests, Elegia is a pensive, longing album, one over which the shadow of Astor Piazzolla looms large -- most obviously, of course, in "Il Regno del Tango," the best Conte tribute to Rio de la Plata music since his 1981's classic "Alle Prese con una Verde Milonga." Elegia, however, is neither somber nor mournful. This is because Conte's lyrics are back to their witty, compassionate best, reintroducing his familiar persona of half cynical nightclub performer and half incurably romantic buffoon. Nowhere is this better expressed than in the ineffable closer, "La Vecchia Giacca Nuova," where Conte's perennially down-and-out figure dignified only by the proud self-awareness of the spectacle of his own ridicule reaches new comic heights. Indeed, old fans and Italian speakers will find this album a true delight -- for what a pleasure it is to listen to a full new set of bona fide Conte standards, such as "Sandwich Man" and "Bamboolah," after the immaculate yet somehow impersonal mannerist albums Una Faccia in Prestito and 900. It may be unfair to describe this album as a return to form, since all of Conte's efforts are possibly a class apart. Rather, Elegia is a back-to-the-roots album, a return to the very essence of what made Paolo Conte's music and persona so great in the first place.

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