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Issue 1092

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Review

Loco Ironico: Carpe Afternoon (Discovery Records)

Loco Ironico CD cover pic

8

6.2

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UK release date 08.07.2016

"Carpe Afternoon," the debut album from Loco Ironico, the new project from UK singer-songwriter Joe Cang and Italian musician and composer Matteo Saggese. An album on first listen that didn’t grab my attention, to be honest. But it stayed in my head a while, so I felt I needed to give it a second listen.

After a few spins, I really dig it. The PR blurb says: “Eleven songs of heartache, shipwreck and weight loss that draw on New Orleans Jazz and Blues, Cuban Tango and Caribbean Calypso. Think Dr John, Tom Waits, Randy Newman and Buena Vista all rolled-up in a style of their own.”

It’s stripped down music, plenty of Tango tempo and Latin vibes. Gyspy jazz, smoky cellar bar 1920s/30s blues and jazz flavours, unashamedly retro. Joe’s vocals are faultless. His versatility is a rare gift. His tone, timbre and phrasing, masterful. The likes of Paul Simon and James Taylor in the same ball park vocally. Matteo really does have a golden touch on the piano. If he doesn’t already, he should be working on film scores. I bet he has lots of Dave Grusin in his record collection?

Joe and Matteo share a twenty-five year history of friendship, co-writing and producing together. In 2015, after a two year hiatus, they came back together at the piano again. The pair started writing the album on a rainy day in London, the songs apparently arrived in a hurry, “as if urgent to be heard.”

Joe: “We quickly realised that this was a record that wanted to be made in one go; no tricks, smoke or mirrors – just people, instruments, microphones and music all together live in one room, to capture the unique magical moments as they happen.”

Recorded in Sicignano degli Alburni, a tiny medieval village in the mountains near Naples. Joe and Matteo set up a studio in a living room unchanged since the 1970s. Joined by Danny Cummings (Elton John, Mark Knopfler) on drums & percussion and Davide Mantovanni (Fela Kuti, Baaba Nana Vasconcelos) on double bass.

A starry array of guests added their magic later: Guitarists Phil Manzanera (Roxy Music, Pink Floyd), Tony Remy (The Crusaders, Annie Lenox) and John Parricelli (Andy Shepard, Goldfrapp). Singers Sarah Jane Morris (The Communards, Pere Ubu) and Peppe Servillo (Paolo Conte, Avion Travel). Trumpeter Steve Sidwell (Stevie Wonder, Sting), bassist Dario Deidda (Benny Golson, Gil Evans Orchestra) and saxophonist Ben Castle (Radiohead, Gregory Porter).

The 11 tracks recorded live in just three days, all one take of the
vocals, piano, bass and drums. The recording sessions engineered by the legendary four-time Grammy winner Jerry Boys, who has worked with The Beatles, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, REM, Ry Cooder, Ibrahim Ferrer, John Lee Hooker, Yehudi Menuhin, Ali Farka Toure, Shakira, Baaba Maal and more. Wow!

The opener “Loco,” is a winner. Swing jazz a la 1920s/30s… A jolly, sing-a-long track; “We are loco, totally loco, drunk too much vino…” I know that feeling! Joe makes singing this style sound so effortless and natural. Like he was born too late, and would have been a big star had he been singing this stuff yonks ago. Rasping sax solo adds some spirit. At three minutes and 15 seconds and with that great hook, it has BBC Radio 2 all over it. You’ll be humming this infectious little bugger all day.

“Laughing Hyenas,” sits on a tango. Voice, piano and percussion. Nice job. Title track “Carpe Afternoon,” a slinky, laid back, smooth groove. Puts me in mind of 10CC’s “Dreadlock Holiday,” in feel. “Always Remember You,” a song about dark intent, despair and loss perhaps: “Bring me my bottle and gun….” Another faultless vocal. Piano, voice and not much else. Nowhere to hide for Joe, but not a problem with that instrument of his.

“La Dolca Vita,” finger clicking backdrop and a great hook. Fabulous Oscar Peterson piano licks on a jazz vibe, driven by upright bass. If Dean Martin were still with us, he’d be all over this one. Imagine this in the middle of a Sinatra movie set in Rome. “Beautiful Land,” slows things down. Conjures up a smoky, whisky-fumed New York cellar bar, in the wee small hours back in the day.

“I Knew Your Mother, “a bluesy mid-tempo affair. Could just imagine Satchmo rasping out a vocal and horn lick on this one. We get Voice, piano, bass and brushes on the snare, before under-stated jazz guitar solo, and plinky-plonky Errol Garner style piano solo.

“Wake Up,” a Latin soaked cut, with a super sassy R&B vocal. One of the best cuts here. Carlos Santana must have been busy, because his solo on this would have guaranteed big radio airplay. With this much quality, I bet he’d have done it if asked, too. “If This Is Love, “has Joe delivering a vocal with a cool drawl, and emphasises his world class phrasing. Tone of the guitar solo didn’t work for me. “C’est La Vie Mon Cherie," just vocal and electric piano on a sad lament.

The record closes with,“It’s Possible,” a beautiful ballad, with a Beatles/”Yesterday,” feel to it. Jerry Boys having worked with the Fab Four, of course. Stunning vocal and a finely crafted song that is ripe for a cover by a big name artist, male or female. Cracking choice to close proceedings.

Sheer class in personnel, performances and the overall audio quality. The material would lend itself to lush orchestral string arrangements, but lots of air and space here; clearly a “less is more,” approach which works well. But I;d LOVE to hear this stuff live with strings.

Born in southern Italy, Matteo is a musician and songwriter, who has also written, arranged and produced for Phil Manzanera, Celine Dion, Il Divo, Zucchero, Nina Hagen, Celentano and Alfie Boe. London-born singer, writer and multi-instrumentalist Joe Cang released his first solo album after being signed by Clive Davis to Arista records. He has toured, recorded and written with Ian Dury, Scritti Politti, K.T.Tunstall, Desmond Dekker, Hall and Oates, Marianne Faithfull, Hugh Masekela, Leona Lewis and Aswad; the latter with and for whom he co-wrote their big hit, “Shine.”

Joe made a huge impact on national radio with his super catchy plea “Make Love,” which Radio 2 took to its heart. It was play-listed for 5 weeks, and Chris Evans drew comparisons with the likes of Paolo Nutini and Amy Winehouse. He followed it up by releasing his acclaimed album “Bed”, in May 2011 and then the soul-blues belter “Better Place," in 2014.

Joe Cang is very much like Paul Carrack, in as much as his voice is unique and a real gift, and fits many genres of music, but a soul core to it. They both always seem to choose the right fit for their vocal timbre, tone and talent. A voice for all seasons. Uber-cool without trying; Joe Cang, pronounced sang; and he most certainly did....

• Loco Ironico live dates: July 21st, HMP Music Festival, Salerno, Campania, February 4th 2017 - Pizza Express, Dean Street, London.
Words SIMON REDLEY

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