Import Zone – Column

Import Zone

Michael McCarthy

I’ve come equipped with a few great new Italian artists for you this month. They’re all female, I know, but… those Italian backstreet boys just aren’t pretty enough to make me lay down $20 a CD (the Lollipop office isn’t receiving free promo copies of the discs I cover in this column, ya know). Actually, it seems as though that Lilith thing has become an international movement. Take a peek at the French and Italian sections (or Greek, for that matter) in your local Tower, Virgin, or HMV world music department and you’ll see what I mean. There are plenty of middle-aged guys releasing new CDs, to be sure, but the majority of new releases are by young women – mostly gorgeous young women, if you really want to get specific. So, blame it all on that Sarah moll and quit yer crying. Or go buy a freakin’ Pavoratti CD.

Not a Pavoratti fan? Good. Then you’ll probably remember when Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know” hit the airwaves and DJs couldn’t stop commenting about how angry she sounded. Imagine if Natalie Merchant sounded equally furious, joined forces with a full-on rock band with metal roots and started singing in Italian. I dare anyone to come up with a better description for the music of Carmen Consoli, who’s Mediamente isterica CD has been getting lots of airplay at chez moi as of late. With production sounding like a cross between Butch Vig’s work with Soul Asylum and his work on Garbage’s debut, it’s a contemporary disc de force with plenty of energy and mood swings to make you want to scream along even if you know less Italian than I. After a few listens though, I needed to get some notion of why she’s seemingly so upset, and headed over to Alta Vista’s translator ( and typed in the song titles. It failed to translate half of them, but it did spit out “Pure Accidental,” “I Felt The Odor,” “According to No Logic” and “The Last Prayer.” Is she a headcase or just a very serious young woman? I don’t dare answer that, but I recommend you investigate and draw your own conclusions.

If Carmen Consoli doesn’t sound spiritual enough for you, check out Francesca Chiara‘s Il parco dei sogni. That’s “The Park of The Dreams,” according to Alta Vista, which spit out “Strange World,” “I Want,” “Witches,” and “I Love You That Strange” among its song title translations. At times she sounds almost as angry as Consoli – or Alanis, for that matter – but most of the time she gives the listener the impression that she’s singing with a slightly evil grin on her face, her accent sounding more like Mexico’s Gloria Trevi than any Italian artist I’ve heard. As if all of this wasn’t bizarre enough, the disc sports some haunting melodies and sounds that seem to have originated on another planet despite the fact that they feel right at home in her songs. Songs which I’ll call rock pop because they’re mostly rock with a pop influence. The production is quite fascinating as most of the tracks seem to have an electronic beat with simultaneous live drums. In other words, imagine if Ednaswap had hired Björk to create peculiar electronic beats to coincide with the live drums on their last album. Francesca Chiara is certainly not the first artist to use this technique, but there aren’t many artists who’ve managed it with such ear-pleasing results.

Alas, I have saved the best for last and they are a singer/songwriter duo – two sisters, in fact – called Paola & Chiara. Much to my own personal amazement, they released their debut and sophomore albums both last year. The first, Ci chiamano bambine (Call us Children), has the upbeat youthful enthusiasm of any impressive debut and then some. With songs that would sound equally at home on pop or rock radio, they probably would’ve been the most successful duo in decades (not that there’ve been many successful duos) if their music were in English. While the melodies on that disc are highly infectious, it’s on the follow up, Giornata storica (Historical Day), that they truly break new ground. While the two singing simultaneously works just fine on Ci chiamano bambine, their voices don’t always blend into one, occasionally making the listener wonder if one is picking up the other’s slack. On Giornata storica, however, their voices blend into one unforgettable, albeit wonderful, siren. It’s tempting to say that Giornata is more of a rock album with the guitars more pronounced this time around, but the melodies are even catchier. When I’d heard they were releasing their second album only a few months after I’d purchased their first, I couldn’t imagine that it would be half as colorful. What no doubt helps make it even more so is the addition of the following instruments: violino, violoncello, Hammond, uillean pipe, bodhran, tin whistles, bouzouki and fisarmonica. Admittedly, I’m not sure what half of them are, but it’s quite obvious that they’re breaking the typical pop rock mold with them when you hear their music. People complain that nobody has been able to master melody while simultaneously experimenting with their songwriting since The Beatles split, but those people have obviously not heard Paola & Chiara.

It should not surprise you when I suggest that you add Giornata storica to your collection before Ci chiamano bambine. Chances are, however, that you’ll want their debut after you’ve heard Giornata. For this reason, I must point out that there are two different versions of the album, one with 10 songs and one with 14. Both are from Italy and run for the same price, but the 14-song version sports two extra songs in addition to an acoustic version of “Bella” (even sweeter than the album version) and a remix of the title track. So be sure you buy that one.