Gianna Nannini concluded her 2011 album Io e Te with a hard rock version of Domenico Modugno's "Volare," presumably intended half as a joke and half in earnest. The same track (albeit in a slightly edited version) also closes 2014's Hitalia, but it has now become a grand finale rather than a gimmick, as the full-blown cover album Hitalia is Nannini's tribute to the Great Italian Songbook. Alas, it is more a spirited than an inspired one. To begin with, Nannini's choices could not have been more obvious: every single one of these 17 songs is an Italian cultural icon and most have been covered to death by any number of artists. Moreover, there is not much chronological or stylistic range either, as 12 come from the 1960s, and roughly half of those were styled for the Sanremo Festival -- a more accurate title for Hitalia could have been Gianna Nannini Sings the Monster Hits of her Adolescence. Out of the five left, two could not possibly be better known ("Mamma," made famous worldwide by Beniamino Gigli in 1940, and the inevitable "'O Sole Mio"), while the last three come from 1978 (Loredana Bertè's "Dedicato," written by Ivano Fossati), 1986 (Lucio Dalla's "Caruso"), and 1987 (Vasco Rossi's "C'è Chi Dice No"). Nannini's approach to making this record seems to try to find a balance between the punkish irreverence that she is often associated with -- and thus expected to deliver -- and the genuine love she harbors for the musica leggera italiana, a tradition she is irrevocably part of even if she prefers to be considered a rebel. In order to do so, she basically explores two avenues: either going for full-blast arena rock, switching the typically melodic orchestral arrangements of this material for loud guitars, or mixing contemporary electronic beats with a string section, as she has been doing for the past decade in her albums with British producer Will Malone, of which Hitalia is the latest. Nannini is clearly having a blast putting her trademark vocal snarl on these beloved tunes, but the hard rock novelty wears off fast and the results are not striking or weird enough to be deemed revelatory. In truth, none of her enthusiastic, accomplished versions are likely to challenge the originals. Contrary to similar tribute projects, this record does not reek of a desperate cash grab, as Nannini has been riding high lately, releasing a string of excellent and successful albums that rival anything in her discography. Rather, Hitalia should be regarded as a minor interlude, a pleasant if inconsequential labor of love.
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AllMusic Review by Mariano Prunes