A collection of traditional songs associated with the labor movement, the Italian communist party, and the Resistance, Il Fischio del Vapore plays as a history lesson on the struggles of the Italian working class from the late 1800s to roughly 1975. For this heartfelt task, de Gregori joins forces with legendary alternative folk singer Giovanna Marini -- who, incidentally, some 30 years ago was de Gregori's guitar teacher. The repertoire chosen covers an ample spectrum, from the greatest and most famous partisan chant of all times, "Bella Ciao," to little known tunes from obscure Italian protest singers, from dealing with major historical events, such as the Sacco and Vanzetti affair, to intimate portraits of the life of anonymous laborers, such as the heartbreaking "Nina Ti Te Ricordi." These traditional songs are not done in the customary folk or country band arrangements. Rather, de Gregori uses his regular backing band so that the typically acoustic setting of the material is enhanced by drums, keyboards, electric guitar, and bass sounds -- albeit mostly in a discreet fashion. Musically, the results are a bit hybrid, not too removed from the standard, but neither a drastic revision of it. On the other hand, the vocal contrast between Marini's declamatory, strident stylings and de Gregori's melancholic whisper works wonders. In fact, their voices perfectly render the two forces at work in the creation of this album: a defiant declaration of continuous militancy and civil anger, as well as a nostalgia for those times when such a music had an active role in people's lives and ideologies. Ultimately, what De Gregori and Marini set to accomplish goes far beyond a political statement: this album's true triumph lies in making the listener newly aware of the sheer beauty of one of the most important musical traditions of 19th and 20th century Italian culture. A valiant statement from de Gregori, Il Fischio del Vapore met with unexpected commercial success.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Mariano Prunes