Various Artists

Putumayo Presents: Italian Musical Odyssey

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Opening up the argument of what constitutes folk music is, as everyone knows, tantamount to opening up a closet full of snakes. The liner notes hail this compilation as "An exquisite selection of songs from today's thriving Italian folk music revival scene." What this release shows is that the current definition of folk in Italy is as hazy around the edges (if not more so) than it is in Celtic and American music of the 21st century. When a track such as "Senza Parlà" by Nuova Compagnia di Canto Popolare appears on a "folk music" collection, the compilers are definitely reaching. This newly composed, lushly arranged pop ballad bears not a trace of folk sensibility. The sweeping, jazzy neo-folk of "Spunta Lu Suli" by Agricantus has only the traditional Sicilian text to put it into the realm of folk music. It's a winning enough piece, if you ignore the tacked-on, scat-singing ending. There are a few artists here who don't allow heavy-handed arrangers to bury the intrinsic beauty of these songs in excessive layers of sound. These tracks tend to be the most rewarding. Càlic's "Attinde" brings the Sardinian canto a tenore tradition into the 21st century, using traditional instruments but adding a slight reggae beat. The rough-hewn sound of Taken's "Franziska," with its accordion, acoustic guitar, and whistle accompaniment, has the boozy wistful air of a good pub singalong. The goal of this release is to introduce the listener to the music of various regions of Italy and Sicily. Unfortunately, on most tracks, what is distinctive about each region's music is blurred by over arrangement. Putumayo Presents: Italian Musical Odyssey is not bad listening. It just misses its mark thematically.

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