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Angelo Branduardi - La pulce d'acqua CD (album) cover

LA PULCE D'ACQUA

Angelo Branduardi

Rock Progressivo Italiano


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Raff
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl Team
4 stars Angelo Branduardi, the Lombardy-born 'minstrel' of Italian music, released his fourth album, La pulce d'acqua, when the great tide of Italian prog was already ebbing away. In spite of that, this album is probably one of his most progressive efforts, combining Branduardi's usual blend of folk and medieval influences with more ambitious songwriting and more complex instrumentation. Too often lumped together with the myriad of 'cantautori' that have graced the Italian music scene for the past forty years, Branduardi has always been much more than a simple singer-songwriter - a highly trained musician, with a solid theoretical background (I heard him speak at a conference, and was really impressed by his knowledge), as well as a passionate researcher into the various manifestations of world music. This would be reason enough to have him included in the PA database - as a matter of fact, a lot of his material shares the same sources as the music produced by many renowned British and European folk-rock outfits.

La pulce d'acqua sees Branduardi accompanied by a number of excellent musicians, some playing unusual instruments like the Pan pipes, the bouzouki, and the distinctively-sounding launeddas, the Sardinian bagpipes. This unique instrument, evocative of the Mediterranean island's stark landscape, features prominently in the album's opening track, Ballo in fa diesis minore, inspired by a Baroque dance, where Death speaks and declares itself everyone's lord and master. Il ciliegio is instead based on a famous English folk ballad, The Cherry Tree Carol, also performed by The Pentangle on their Solomon's Seal album (though with a different music - Branduardi's version is definitely more upbeat). The sprightly title-track features a rich orchestral arrangement, as well as the perky sound of the piccolo and other woodwind instruments.

On the whole, the album is consistently well-performed, with all the participating musicians on top form. The majority of the tracks are not particularly experimental, and keep within the song form. However, what I consider to be the highlights of the album are nothing short of stunning. Besides the aforementioned Ballo in fa diesis minore, the haunting ballad La sposa rubata (inspired by an ancient Breton folk song called Satan's Bride, based on the motif of the bride kidnapped by a supernatural being on her wedding day) sees a particularly inspired vocal performance by Branduardi, who also plays the Pan pipes; while album closer La bella dama senza pietÓ is an authentically progressive offering, dark and sinister with its plodding beat. And no surprise... The song is based on one of the most genuinely disturbing pieces of poetry I know, John Keats' La Belle Dame Sans Merci (of which the song's lyrics are an excellent translation), the story of a knight ensorceled by the titular 'beautiful lady without mercy', and condemned to a lingering life-in-death. The song's haunting beauty is further enhanced by the exotic sound of the sitar, particularly effective in the coda. Branduardi's vocals go from measured, almost whispered, to passionate and emotionally-charged; a grandiose string section completes the picture.

Two extra-musical features of the album also deserve a mention: the beautiful drawings by Mario Convertino (unfortunately, except for the cover, only visible in the vinyl version), and Luisa Zappa Branduardi's wonderful lyrics. Luisa is very gifted with words, and some of her compositions (including the lyrics to this album) have been translated into English by someone well-known to every prog fan, King Crimson and ELP lyricist Pete Sinfield.

This album will definitely appeal to anyone interested in medieval and folk music, even though it is not as dark and experimental as the likes of Comus. Anyway, if you are into Pentangle, Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention, you could do much worse than get to know Angelo Branduardi's fascinating musical world. Probably not easy to get hold of outside Europe (but to be found for very cheap in Italy), La pulce d'acqua makes nevertheless for a very rewarding listen. Four stars from this reviewer.

Report this review (#205254)
Posted Tuesday, March 3, 2009 | Review Permalink
kenethlevine
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog-Folk Team
4 stars Parting the curtain behind the big 3 or so progressive ensembles to come out of Italy in the 1970s, one of course discovers a myriad of other agglomerations of varying longevity. But minimal research unveils solo performers who achieved considerable popular recognition in their day, at least in their homeland if not throughout Europe. At the risk of unfairly applying a broad brush, these artists would be in the crossover prog of RPI, even if most of their fans can't spell prog. I certainly don't profess to know more than a few, with FRANCO BATTIATO first coming to mind; admittedly his earlier work was more avant garde before he tasted mass success in the 1980s. Following close behind is ANGELO BRANDUARDI, who is blessed with a better singing voice and comes across as Italy's answer to CHRISTY MOORE (a contemporary), with a folky, generally gentle and string heavy quality that grows and grows in my estimation. Top notch melodies that are both simple and challenging may have something to do with this.

While the album is generally placid, there are some uptempo tracks, with the 7 minute opener being the most impressive of these, replete with a bagpipe fashioned segment alternating with a decidedly Celtic melody in the verse. It brings to mind Quebecois music of that era, such as LE REVE DU DIABLE, and also venerable Brits the ALBION BAND and even the Breton ensemble TRI YANN, but this is a lot more measured and subtle. Both "Il poeta di corte" and the title cut are lively ditties that graft stereotypical Italian music onto Branduardi's own branches, and evoke STEFANO TESTA's most impressive one-off. "La Sposa Rubata" and "Il Poeta di Corte" are slower pieces that might have a less patient listener hitting the next button, but they are worth the effort. Even the closing piece with its by then decade-old psychedelic flourishes is enhanced by his own poignant violin, other strings and a traditional styled tune.

Quality and profound caring are graciously offered on this 1970s release that is recommended to fans of classy soft folk rock and/or RPI aficionados.

Report this review (#283624)
Posted Wednesday, May 26, 2010 | Review Permalink
seventhsojourn
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
RPI
4 stars Angelo Branduardi is a classically trained violinist and composer, and while he has a fairly extensive and varied discography it's probably his mid-seventies work that is of most interest to fans of Italianate prog. On ''La Pulce d'Acqua'' he deploys novel combinations of unusual instruments in order to exploit the largely folk-styled music. It's a mainly song oriented album that mixes traditional elements with the splendour of early music; the combination of ethnic instruments and Renaissance/Baroque orchestral parts makes this a wonderfully rich experience. I think I'm correct in saying that an English version of the album (''Fables and Fantasies'') was also released, with lyrics by Pete Sinfield.

Fast forwarding to the end of the album, closing track ''La Bella Dama Senza PietÓ'' has a strong psychedelic feel with its blend of sitar and Middle Eastern-sounding strings. Elsewhere, Branduardi's symbiotic mix of traditional and modern bears exotic fruit thanks to a pool of talented musicians. Songs like ''Il Ciliegio'' and ''La Lepre Nella Luna'' have something of a West Coast feel, the former through its slide guitar and the latter due to its use of harmonica. But this album is principally based on Italian folk and ''La Sposa Rubata'' features pan pipes and violin, while the uptempo ''Il Poeta di Corte'' is fortified by its use of launeddas.

The launeddas are traditional Italian pipes and they provide the main impetus for the album's largest scale piece, ''Ballo in Fa Diesis Minore'', where the two main themes interweave to uplifting effect. There was a Christmas tradition in Italy whereby mountain shepherds would visit the towns to play their bagpipes (zampogna) in return for food or in order to earn a little extra money. December was the month of the zampognari, the name given to the bagpipe players, and they heralded the arrival of Christmas and even featured in traditional Nativity scenes. So while Branduardi uses launeddas here rather than zampognas, along with the strings and other wind instruments they add to the festive feel of this track and make it sound quite seasonal.

''La Pulce d'Acqua'' pretty much epitomizes the folksier side of RPI, and should appeal to fans of acoustic music and chamber pop.

Report this review (#359690)
Posted Tuesday, December 21, 2010 | Review Permalink
octopus-4
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
RIO/Avant/Zeuhl,Neo & Post/Math Teams
4 stars After the huge commercial success of his 3rd album who gave him notoriety to the mainstream public making a good album would have been difficult for every artist. Angelo Branduardi apparently didn't feel any pressure and likely invested part of the previous earnings in the production of his "La Pulce D'Acqua".

I remember we fans were having a lot of expectations about this album and it received also a lot of advertising including posters on the road, something that was not very usual actually.

The vinyl came out with nice watercolor paintings included in the package, one for each song. The cover sleeve is an example of them. This is another symptom of the increased popularity and the investment made by the major.

The album is opened by one of the still most famous songs of Branduardi: "Ballo in Fa Diesis Minore (Dance in F#-)" it's a song which takes inspiration from a medieval leid, the same which has inspired a Blackmore's Night song that's almost identical, and the lyrics are about the personification of Death, a typical medieval thing. This dance is a sort of exhorcism against Death "A turn of dance, another one and you're no longer Master of Time....".

"Il ciliegio (The cherry tree)" is a fairytale about a pregnant girl who asks a gardener to give her some fruits for her son then the tree moves a branch to her. It's the song I like more on this album.

"Nascita Di Un Lago (Birth of a Lake)" is opened by trumpets and classical guitar. It's another fairytale that has its roots in the Greek mythology. Musically speaking is a classical Branduardi's ballad.

"Il Poeta di Corte (The Court's Poet)" is a sort of nursery rhyme, uptime and funny with the efffort of Lai's launeddas. It has the flavor of a medieval ballad. Another song which had a great success actually.

"Il Marinaio (The Sailor)" Is the usual theme of the woman waiting for her husband or lover to return from the sea. A love song that even with mandolin and violins doesn't sound traditional Italian. It's more close to Pentangle or the already mentioned Blackmore's Night.

The title track opens the B side. "La pulce d'acqua (the Water Flea)" is another madrigal- like ballad made with the use of medieval and folk instruments Together with Il Poeta di Corte reminds to a celebration in a castle.

"La Sposa Rubata (The Raped Wife)" Is a dark tale which takes inspiration from a legend directly coming from the myth of Orpheus. From a musical point of view is probably the strongest composition of the album. An excellent song based on classical guitar.

"La Lepre Nella Luna (The Hare in the Moon)" is another acoustic symbolic fairytale about a hare, a fox and a monkey.

To close the album Angelo placed another song about Death as the opener: "La Bella Dama Senza Pieta' (The Beautiful Lady With No Mercy)" has an hippy flavor thanks to the sitar. The most progressive thing of this album that's probably the most progressive album released by Branduardi on which the folk influence (British and Celtic folk, more than Italian) is less evident than usual.

Report this review (#440288)
Posted Friday, April 29, 2011 | Review Permalink
4 stars "My name is death and I'm wearing the crown I'm your sole lord and master I'm so cruel, strong and rough all your walls can't stop me" ( I have re-translated this from a german translation to the opening track "Ballo in Fa diesis Minore" - "Dance in F# Minor" ).

You don't expect a record that starts out with lyrics like these to be an uplifting and enchanting one, or do you ? But in spite of what you may think ( and in spite of some slowies on it ): "La Pulce d'Acqua" is Branduardi's most uplifting collection of songs, a wonderful celebration of life. With the success of "Alla Fiera dell' est" and in spite of the pressures there must have been to produce a worthy follow-up, Branduardi seemed to be more confident than ever to go his own way, and this, simple as it sounds, is what he did. The minstrel had found his audience in the 20th Century - and offered it a fine, inspired and well performed bunch of melodies, many of them easy-going. Once you got through the rather straining intro of "Ballo" with all its bagpipe-noises, you can't help but feel so good you don't hear the large amount of work behind those recordings. It's so infectious cause it's got such a wonderful flow - even the sad tunes, mainly "Il Marinaio" and "La Sposa Rubata", don't interrupt it cause you rather marvel at their magical beauty than feel saddened, it's only when you arrive at the end - with the "most proggy" piece on the album, "La bella Dama sensa Pieta" - that you may feel disturbed ( or, out for a progressive adventure, get interested ), cause otherwise the whole album is a stupendous example of... hm... high quality entertainment combining rather simple songs ( not many refrains - if the verses are ear-wigs for themselves you don't need any ! ) with great arrangements, subtle orchestration ( master of both: Maurizio Fabrizio ! ) and absolutely flawless performance ( every musician included is worth to be mentioned as a master of his own right ). And, yes, ( with the translations available - I don't speak Italian ) it's got to be said that the lyrics are outstanding as well, mostly due to Angelo's wife Luisa ( who is perhaps the best lyricist he had for his music - no matter how great the poems of WB Yeats and others are ).

But that also means: It's contemporary music no matter if experiments are included ( as are with the beginning and the end ). I can't see it among "prog", and this may be the problem for you. It's a singer/songwriter's pleasure based on folklore and rather lightweight-classical themes - typically Branduardi, with the immortal title-track as his best loved evergreen ever ( here in Germany at least ). You've gotta be out for harmony and beauty rather than really complex structures to understand my rating - if not, please subtract one star in your mind. For Branduardi, though, "La Pulce d'Acqua" remains one of his best albums, a timeless and joyous classic that consolidated his success in the 70s and is well worth being rediscovered at any time by children of all age. As I wrote in my review to "Alla Fiera dell' est" - it's music to fall in love to ( and fall in love with ). A great plus is that, though Angelo truly had found his "formula" by then, it's still different to its predecessors - although those albums ( and, at least. the following "Cogli la prima mela" ) somehow belong together. If you like one you should have them all. And if you like Branduardi - you may wonder where's the fifth star in my rating. But, actually, I can't give it simply because it's no "prog-rock". It's highly recommended, still - cause there's always more than one kind of music that ought to be treasured even if it's a hugely varied and amazing category as is "prog".

If you don't despise contemporary entertainment regard my review a roll-call to stay open minded and allow yourself the pleasures of a child. "Too much head" may be an obstacle - to me, this is music reminding me that life itself is beautiful and sometimes all we have to do is "say yes". Listening to those old, classic albums is always giving me back some of the best feelings I had when I was young and that's a great source of comfort. I remember having tried oil-painting many years ago and although I gave it up soon the best results were achieved with this album on the turntable ! A celebration of life indeed - thanks to all the wonderful musicians involved, and hats off to Angelo Branduardi for always going his way, he should know by now that he's more than a craftsman, he's an inspiring and outstanding artist and remains a strong voice for the beauty of life. Priceless.

Report this review (#634865)
Posted Thursday, February 16, 2012 | Review Permalink
apps79
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars A year passes and a new album comes for Angelo Branduardi, this time it will be 1977 and the title would be ''La pulce d'acqua'' (again on Polydor).The line-up of the album has strong connections to Italian Prog: Maurizio Fabrizio on piano and guitar, ex-Il Paese dei balocchi and Il Rovescio della Medaglia Franco di Sabbatino on keyboards, Roberto Puleo, who plays the bouzouki, was a later member of Murple, drummer Andy Surdi had previously played with Salis.The album was recorded at the studios of Fonit-Cetra in Milano.

Long tracks are pretty rare in Branduardi's discography, so the 7-min. ''Ballo in fa diesis minore'' needs a honorable mention, being a nice collection of modern Classical Music and Mediterrenean Folk sounds, showered by poetic Italian vocals by Branduardi and highlighted by an excellent Bruno De Filippi on ocarina, definitely a good turn by Branduardi regarding his conventional material.The rest of the album is typical of Branduardi's repertoire.Mostly sweet Chamber Folk songs with the standard aura of the Mediterrenean tradition, featuring lots of wind and string sections and the gentle, pastoral acoustics of Branduardi's guitar.The nice opener and the prog-inclined line-up may give hopes for some sort of a different style compared to the previous releases, but I guess 1977 was a hard year to start any musical experiments.The man still keeps a high quality on composition and orchestrations, maybe too many tracks sound like Orchestral Pop ballads in here, but the harmonies are lovely and the execution is flawless.Not much of a progressive content though I am afraid, ''La pulce d'acqua'' is closer to the Italian Singer/Songwriter stylings with elaborate melodies and a heavy acoustic sound leading the way.

I could actually write many lines for Branduardi.He released a ton of albums over the years with a Pop flair, always flavored by his love for Folk and Orchestral Music and adding experimental touches, while participating in many other albums be several artists.One of the charismatic figures of contemporary Italian Music without question.

''La pulce d'acqua'' follows the trends of his 70's steps.Acoustic, semi-orchestrated Folk with imaginative soundscapes and romantic singing.Recommended.

Report this review (#1326258)
Posted Friday, December 19, 2014 | Review Permalink

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