ITALY: Lucio Dalla - Lucio Dalla
Updated: Apr 10
Pop-rock maestro Dalla merges an array of styles to create a beautiful sound
Despite being an immense admirer of all things Italian, as a non-Italian speaker who has never had the opportunity to live in Italy as of yet, I sometimes feel as though I cannot do justice when writing reviews of Italian artists in the same fashion as my counterpart Joel might, due to his extensive knowledge of Italy. That said, when I am given an album to review like this one, my job is made a little easier as I can simply be sycophantic about the obvious talent of the artist.
“..the musicianship on this album never fails to be of a high-quality, particularly with the introduction of a wonderful string orchestra in the second half of the album...”
There is one thing that strikes me most about this record, which is that Dalla strikes an almost perfect balance between various influences to make a style that is almost uniquely his own. I am not under any illusions that this album would, at a base-level, be labelled or categorised as ‘pop-rock’, but listen closely and you will hear so much more than this. As it was his eighth record, the singer-songwriter clearly had a lot of experience under his belt already and it seems as that, as such, this album was a culmination of all his learnings up until its release in the late 1970s. He seems to marry together at times an operatic voice, as can be heard in the finale of the last track L'anno che verrà, with jazz stylings, that are particularly apparent on the jazzy ballad Milano as well as during his saxophone solo on my favourite song on the album Cosa sarà. Even though this is the only song on the album that he did not compose himself, as the music was written by Rosalino Cellamare, this jazz-infusion that he brings to the table is really remarkable. It was no surprie to later discover that after teaching himself the clarinet at the age of 10, he joined a jazz ensemble in Bologna and trained in this field.
Yet, it is not just jazz and operatic influences that can be heard. The intelligent use of the accordion, a distant relative of the bandoneon that is used in Uruguay and Argentine, in the song Tango inflect the tune with faint tango undertones that never overpower his voice. The musicianship on this record never fails to be of a high-quality, particularly with the introduction of a wonderful string orchestra in the second half of the album. I particularly love the sound of the strings on Anna e Marco, where Dalla shows off his storytelling abilities. In this song he tells us the story of a mundane suburb with the night sky acting as a source of refuge to a young couple, gifting them an opportunity to escape. Having translated the lyrics to all the songs on this album, it is fair to say that there are two common themes that arise here. One that is more basic, which is a recurrent nocturnal theme, perhaps most obvious on the biblical allegory L'ultima luna, whilst the other is singing about specific places and locations.
The Bolognese’s aforementioned homage to Milan, in Milano, is in stark contrast to the critique of the Italian parts of Switzerland in the rather bizarre song Angeli. Singing about Lugano he says “Le tre di notte non so dove sputare, è così pulito che non si può sporcare” (Three in the morning I don't know where to spit, it's so clean it can't get dirty). The reason why I mention his penchant for storytelling is because Dalla sometimes appear to be one of the first non-Francophone artists I have heard attempting something that borderlines chanson. His talk-singing in songs like La signora is chanson-esque; if that seems an inaccurate suggestion, then one must at least admit that for a pop-rocker he certainly delves into power-ballad territory very often, such as in Notte. What I admire about this is that, even though he can sing, the rawness of his emotion and commitment to telling tales comes across in the way in which he plays around with and manipulates his vocal range.
After his death, it was revealed that Dalla had lived all of his life in the closet. In fact, in the year of the album’s release in an interview he said: "Non mi sento omosessuale" ("I do not feel gay"). Perhaps it was this internalised repression that led Dalla to carry with him so much anger and frustration with the intolerant nature of Italy during that era. One might suggest that music was not only his opportunity to showcase his immense talent, but also his outlet for the emotions hiding your sexuality must bring. Either way, whatever the cause of Dalla’s outstanding album, over 40 years later the album still holds up today and he should of course be heralded as one of Italy’s greats.