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For someone typically considered the biggest figure in the history of easy listening Italian style, since at least the late '70s Mina has followed a defiantly independent career path, releasing albums based purely on her idiosyncratic personal taste rather than marketing calculations. While the commercial and artistic fortunes of her albums have been uneven, through the years she has always managed to command respect from critics and fans alike, as she alternatively released collections of new songs or tributes to a particular author or genre. Time has certainly not slowed her down: in 2009 Mina bookended the year with one album of each kind, first her take on opera Sulla Tua Bocca lo Dirò, and later the pop/rock record Facile. Facile has been touted as Mina's flirting with underground Italian rock, mostly due to her inclusion of two tracks written for her by members of legendary indie bands Afterhours and Subsonica. The rest of the material, however, was composed by less well-known authors (above all Andrea Mingardi, who had written for Mina in the past), and in sound and feel it is much closer to the mainstream Italian pop/rock/soul of say, Lucio Dalla, and especially Zucchero. To be sure, a few of the songs, notably "Non Si Butta Via Niente," could seem almost parodic in their perfect re-creation of the Zucchero recipe. Their saving grace is that they are actually pretty fine songs of their own as well. Facile is indeed a solid collection of songs clearly tailored for Mina's passionate persona -- the subject matter of choice is malfunctioning love, of course -- but never obvious or trite. The superb title track and first single was evidently intended as the album's manifesto, Mina's unlikely duet with Afterhours' singer Manuel Agnelli, backed by his band. For those unfamiliar with the Italian scene, this would be the equivalent of a Barbra Streisand-Sonic Youth (or Radiohead) collaboration, if you can imagine that. It quickly became one of the most talked-about songs of the year, thanks in part to a video starring Agnelli and Mina's daughter Benedetta Mazzini, who bears a striking resemblance to the young Mina.

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