Jovanotti / Soleluna NY Lab

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OYEAH Review

by Mariano Prunes

Jovanotti's first U.S. release for Oyeah on Verve Forecast is a curious affair. Rather than a compilation of his greatest hits, or an album sung in English, Oyeah documents Jovanotti's summer of 2009 in New York City through a vigorous live performance with his backing band, Soleluna, and a bonus disc with outtakes from the recording sessions of "Baciami Ancora," the title theme for the sequel to the blockbuster "L'Ultimo Bacio" (not included here, but released as a single in Italy). The first CD is basically a non-stop funk jam session. Clearly delighted with the fine, multi-ethnical musicianship of Soleluna, Jovanotti romps through some of his most uptempo material, mostly culled from his last two or three records. The downside is that all that infectious energy ultimately obscures Jovanotti's strongest point, his unerring knack for writing simple but memorable, melodic pop songs. For Oyeah, instead of his best songs, Jovanotti chooses to go over his favorite live raves -- and many of these sound too much alike, no matter how much Soleluna revamps them and extends them. Another problem arises with Jovanotti's vocals. Several of these selections were originally conceived as hip-hop tracks for drum machines and keyboards, made to suit and highlight Jovanotti's lyrics and rapping. When the music is fleshed out to full-band arrangements, complete with sinewy detours into jazz and world music, suddenly Jovanotti's rapping sounds insufficient, as if unable to keep up with this much grander scale -- one cannot help think that the addition of a soul-singing female background vocal section would have worked wonders in this setting. If, in the self-mocking half-English, half-Italian declaration of "Come Parli L'Italiano" Jovanotti announces his ambition to "groove like James Brown and sing like Pavarotti," it is at least ironic that while Soleluna manages to nail the U.S. part down to a T, Jovanotti should come up short on the Italian side of the equation. This is nowhere more evident than in the misguided covers of Michael Jackson and the Bee Gees material, by far the weakest tracks in this compilation. At any rate, matters improve greatly on the second half of the album, when the mood gets quieter as Soleluna shifts gears from funky to jazzy and Jovanotti's reflective, beautiful lyrics get a chance to shine. The bonus disc continues the upward trend, with unexpected versions of Italian standards by Luigi Tenco and Fred Buscaglione, as well as a winning samba rendition of Albinoni's adagio. Oyeah thus seems more of a private memento of Jovanotti's having a blast in New York than an introduction to the artist astutely designed for the American market. It should appeal more to Jovanotti's longtime fans than newcomers, as a sort of live/rarities album. Strangely, the record will not be available in stores in Italy; it will be available for download, however, at a specially reduced price.

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