Paolo Conte

The Best of Paolo Conte [Nonesuch]

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The Best of Paolo Conte is currently the only collection of the Italian singer/songwriter's music that is readily available in America. Fortunately for those with a soft spot for quirky romantics, it is a fine representation of his life's work. Conte is often compared to Tom Waits, presumably because both men have gravelly voices and write from a skewed, sometimes surreal perspective. Like Waits, Conte is a jazz aficionado, but despite these shared characteristics, the two sound nothing alike. Where Waits is aggressively avant-garde, Conte tends to be smooth, urbane, conversational. He arranges his songs (with the exception of a few synthetic-sounding tracks from the '80s) for small combos, with his own rolling piano lines and kazoo (yes, kazoo) at the center. Most striking is his eccentric singing style, which includes frequent detours through broken English and madcap scatting. For listeners who do not understand Italian, the 20 selections here may begin to blur together, but the handy translations in the liner notes reveal that Conte is a perceptive, poetic lyricist, whether he is commenting on lemon ice cream, neglected colleagues, Ernest Hemingway, or a passionate affair. His rollicking cocktail of lounge jazz, ragtime, cabaret, polka, and South American rhythms makes for a wry, soothing alternative to strident rockers and wimpy troubadours alike.

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