Pino Daniele

La Grande Madre

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Like many artists, Pino Daniele had a brilliant first decade, followed by years and years of ups and downs, trying different musical avenues (some more successful than others), dodging accusations of selling out, and of generally coasting on his reputation. Fortunately, La Grande Madre is one of those post-1990 Daniele records that makes the glass seems at least half full, instead of half empty. For starters, after a 35-year major-label career, Daniele decided to go his own way, and released the album through his own Blue Drag label. This should perhaps translate into less pressure to deliver easy listening singles, but in truth, the only substantial difference is the absence of computers or any shiny production gimmicks. This is a fully organic album, played with real live musicians of the caliber of Steve Gadd, Chris Stainton, or Mel Collins, not to mention Daniele himself. As customary, musicianship is stellar, and Daniele's guitar playing and voice will always be a joy to behold. A lot of La Grande Madre, however, recalls those Eric Clapton albums from the '80s, fine but not particularly remarkable. Clapton is even directly referenced, not only by some of the session players mentioned above, but by the inclusion of a beautiful Italian cover of "Wonderful Tonight," which Daniele sort of spoils by singing partly in English, but then also honors it by demonstrating just how exactly gorgeous the melody is in the hands of a truly great singer. This is also a noticeably rock-oriented album for Daniele, with a lot of inspired, heartfelt blues and funk guitar licks, but with surprisingly little of his trademark Mediterranean flavor. In fact, he sings more often in English than in Neapolitan -- and that can never be a good thing, particularly since Daniele's lyrics have always been his Achilles' heel. On the plus side, most of La Grande Madre is truly quite good at everything it attempts: a couple of strong singles ("Melodramma" and "La Grande Madre," easily the album's best track), ballads ("I Still Love You"), instrumental tracks ("The Lady of My Heart"), or a live jam ("Coffè Time," "'O Fra.") Above all -- and in this, La Grande Madre significantly differs from other 2000s Daniele productions -- it seems to grow better with every new listen, rather than less interesting. Not exactly a stunning comeback, but definitely a most pleasant, engaging surprise.

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