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(41:22, New LM Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Prodigiosa Macchina 21:50 2. Il Pensiero Dominante 11:30 3. I Cori Della Via Lattea 8:02 SOLO PILOT: Mario Cottarelli – keyboards; guitars; drums; vocals
Prolusion. Hailing from Cremona, in northern Italy, Mario COTTARELLI is a self-taught musician and composer who has been active on the Italian musical scene since the early Seventies. Unfortunately, when he started submitting his recordings to record companies, interest in progressive rock had already waned, so Cottarelli had to take a more commercial path in his musical career. However, he never forgot his love for prog, and in 2005 started revisiting some of the pieces he had composed in the mid-Seventies. The result of this operation was “Prodigiosa Macchina”, released in November 2007.
Analysis. Though officially released almost three years ago, Mario Cottarelli’s debut CD only reached my desk earlier this year. It is a completely independent production, composed, arranged and performed by Cottarelli himself – an apparently unassuming disc, with a very plain cover depicting the artist in the act of walking, and a bare amount of information (though including the lyrics, which, for those who are familiar with Italian, can be quite an interesting read). Though the dreaded words ‘vanity project’ might be conjured by such a description, I already knew enough about Cottarelli to know this was not the case. In fact, I would not hesitate in calling “Prodigiosa Macchina” (Wonder Machine) a true labour of love, released by the artist after almost three decades in limbo. “Prodigiosa Macchina” is quite a peculiar album – sung entirely in Italian, though not sounding as typically Italian as the output of other artists coming from the same country, and based mainly on keyboards, though not as showy and grandiose as other comparable efforts. It is, in fact, an eminently listenable offering, in spite of a few shortcomings that seem to be inevitable in ‘solo-pilot’ projects of this kind. What makes the album oddly successful, at least to these ears, is the feeling of enthusiasm and overall positivity that emanates from the music – and that in spite of the often caustic, world-weary lyrics (which may be appreciated by those who understand Italian). True, Cottarelli’s vocals are not the strongest you will hear – sometimes he sounds as if he is speaking rather than singing, and, since in the first two tracks his voice is heard quite a lot, this can feel a tad monotonous after a while. On the other hand, from a compositional point of view, the three numbers featured on “Prodigiosa Macchina” are much more successful than one might expect. Even if his career took him away from progressive rock for a long time, Cottarelli is obviously an old hand at songwriting, and his skill is evident even in tracks of potentially daunting length. A song like the title-track might have easily resulted in a patchy, sprawling mess, but instead comes across as unexpectedly fluid, with all the various keyboards blending into each other with ease, producing catchy melodies and often beautiful atmospheres. There are echoes of Mike Oldfield in the use of bell loops halfway through the song, though most of it is a rich keyboard feast with an airy sweep and a strongly upbeat feel. The drums, however, tend to sound occasionally a tad too mechanical, and therefore spoil the overall effect, albeit mildly. Markedly shorter than the title-track, the remaining two songs are quite different from each other. Il Pensiero Dominante is less melodic, more intense than the previous number, and also more emphatic, with declamatory vocals and a loosely avant-garde feel – a bit of an acquired taste, even if quite dynamic, as well as definitely intriguing. The instrumental I Cori Della Via Lattea opens with an eerily ominous mood, reminiscent of Goblin’s horror movie soundtracks, with church organ accompanied by spacey electronic effects; then unfolds into a Genesis-influenced, keyboard-led piece with sprinklings of sampled choral vocals. Those who find Cottarelli’s voice less than exciting will probably consider this the best track on the album. Seen the nature of the three tracks, the album’s running time is kept to a wise 41 minutes – a longer effort with more of Cottarelli’s uneven vocals and the occasional tinny feel of the programmed drums would have definitely outstayed its welcome. In any case, the album is a pleasing listen, even with its evident flaws, and a nice addition to any Italian progressive rock collection.
Conclusion. Though from far perfect, “Prodigiosa Macchina” is an interesting album that will provide quite a lot of listening pleasure to fans of classic Italian prog, especially of the keyboard-driven kind. Hopefully this is not the last we will hear from Mario Cottarelli as a purveyor of high-quality progressive rock.
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