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(69:25, Black Widow Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. La Pietra 9:41 2. How Good 2:38 3. Studiare-Studiare 4:26 4. Will Love Drive Out the Rain 5:22 5. Adesso 2:04 6. Al Ritmo Di Una Storia 3:47 7. Beware-Beware 5:09 8. Ever Too Small 2:36 9. Don't Dream That Dream 4:22 10. Non E’ l'Amore il Tuo Destino 3:34 11. L'Ennesimo No 2:09 12. Elide 5:50 13. Aradia 3:47 14. Two Witches & Doreen 4:11 15. Nei Luoghi 3:58 16. When the Eagles Flied 3:38 17. Circle Game 2:11 18. When the Eagles Flied (Video) 3.38 LINEUP: Sophya Baccini – vocals; piano, synthesizer, clavinet, mellotron Pino Falgani – percussion; Moog, Hammond Vittorio Cataldi – accordion, violin Franco Ponzo – guitar With: Stefano Vicarelli – modular Moog (1, 12) Aurelio Fierro Jr. – drums (6, 12) Martin Grice – flute (9), sax (15) Nona Luna – vocals (14) Ana Torres – vocals (14) Lino Vairetti – vocals (10)
Prolusion. Born in Naples, Italy, Sophya BACCINI grew up in a musical environment – her father was an opera singer, and she started playing the piano as a child. After having worked for years as a backing vocalist, in 1990 she founded the band Presence, with whom she recorded six albums, released by Genoa-based record label Black Widow. In the past few years she has also engaged in collaborations with other prominent Italian progressive rock bands, such as Greenwall, Delirium and Osanna, and contributed a song to the “Kalevala” 3-CD set released by Colossus/Musea in 2003.
Analysis. When listening to “Aradia” for the first time, it becomes obvious right from the start that the album is a labour of love, a project very close to the artist’s heart whose making lasted over three years. After a long career as a singer and songwriter, Sophya Baccini finally decided to allow her other talents as a musician to come to the fore, and the results – while not perfect – are indeed quite impressive. Like so many self-respecting prog albums, “Aradia” is a concept, based on a tale of friendship between women – to use the artist’s own words, the story of a woman who finds herself thanks to another woman’s help and support. The story does also have supernatural and mythological overtones, as well as feminist ones – according to Neo-Pagan belief, Aradia was the daughter of the goddess Artemis, and (not surprisingly for a Black Widow release) there are frequent references to magic and mysticism. The album’s centrepiece is a 50-minute suite divided into 13 parts, which relates Aradia’s tale in emotional, often visionary terms. To be perfectly honest, the last four tracks, appended to the disc as a sort of afterthought, could have been omitted without doing any real damage to the final product – especially since the album is almost 70 minutes long. While the operatic, grandiose Two Witches & Doreen, featuring two female guest vocalists alongside Baccini, and the melancholy Nei Luoghi, enhanced by Delirium’s Martin Grice’s soulful tenor sax, are more than worthwhile efforts, When the Eagles Flied (sic) is little more than a standard (though pleasant) pop-rock ballad, and the a cappella cover of Joni Mitchell’s Circle Game feels a bit like the proverbial odd man out. The main suite, however, is quite a different story. Even if both Sophya’s vocal style (somewhat reminiscent of Annie Haslam, though not as powerful) and the overall musical atmosphere may be an acquired taste for some, the whole piece is a fascinating endeavour in the somewhat gothic-tinged vein of Kate Bush or Tori Amos (with the same bent towards occasional forays into sophisticated art-pop), though flavoured with a liberal dose of Mediterranean romance and lyricism. While the symphonic component holds the various tracks together, the actual rock factor is not always evident – some of the songs do not feature drums or percussion, and the presence of the rock instrument by definition, the electric guitar, is limited to a few, judiciously distributed episodes. On the other hand, the violin is a steady presence throughout the album, and other, more exotic instruments such as the bouzouki or the accordion add a folksy note to the proceedings. Opener La Pietra immediately sets the mood for the entire disc, with Baccini reciting the opening lines of Aradia’s story over a lush orchestral background. The 9-minute-plus track, the longest on the album, alternates sedate, lyrical moments with more dramatic ones, dominated by Sophya’s soaring, intense vocals and tempered by her gently lilting piano and some beautifully melodic guitar work. The songs that follow are all markedly shorter, some of them conceived like interludes connecting the more substantial pieces of the story. Though the vocals are understandably the stars of the show, the other instruments contribute to building a rich, enthralling atmosphere which helps the listener to get into the story. Among the many highlights of the suite, there are some that deserve a special mention. In Studiare-Studiare, the lilting sound of the clavinet can be heard on a lush tapestry of strings and mellotron, while the accordion enhances the romantic, tango-like melody of Will Love Drive Out the Rain, with its passionate, lyrical ending. Non E’ L’Amore Il Tuo Destino sees Sophya’s ethereal voice contrasted with Osanna singer Lino Vairetti’s expressive, powerful one over a sparse, piano- and flute-led background. If I had to level one particular criticism at the album, it would regard the lyrical rather than the musical aspect. In fact, even though I appreciate Sophya’s efforts in writing her songs not solely in Italian, but also in English and French, I would suggest avoiding making mistakes such as the one in the title of the song When the Eagles Flied in future releases - which could detract from her credibility on the international scene. Personally, I believe Italian artists should stick to their language as much as they can, seen how well it adapts to music in general, and particularly to the kind featured on “Aradia”.
Conclusion. A finely-crafted, deeply personal album, “Aradia” will appeal to lovers of female voices, especially those who do not mind a touch of operatic grandiosity with their music. In general, fans of Italian progressive rock in all its forms are sure to find this album to their taste. On the whole, a very promising solo debut from one of the best female vocalists on the current prog scene, and one who deserves to gain more recognition outside her home country.
RB=Raffaella Berry: September 10, 2009
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