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MUSICA E PAROLE

Libra

Rock Progressivo Italiano


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Finnforest
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Italian Prog, the Stones, jazzyfunk, and space excursions? Hmmm.

Libra is another unusual story in a genre filled with such stories. Most bizarre is that they must be the only Italian Prog group to have had a 10-album deal with American label Motown Records. They never did complete that contract and from a prog perspective it is this debut that would be most important. Formed in Rome in 1973 with musicians from Logan Dwight, Reale Accademia, and Buon Vecchio Charlie they had some line-up shuffles before recording this album in the autumn of 1974 in Milan. A very busy 1975 followed. Early in the year the debut album was released followed by a spring tour with Banco. The band rehearsed all summer and toured America in Oct-Dec with the likes of Frank Zappa, Tubes, Chicago and Steppenwolf. They went back to Italy in December and that line-up crumbled but a second and more commercial album would follow in 1976. That album didn't do much and a third soundtrack album was released before the band completely ceased. Libra's aspirations of success as a band never were fully realized but guitarist Nicola Di Staso remembers those days fondly, telling Augusto Croce "I have many fond memories of that time, because it was so authentic!! We wanted to conquer the world, at least the musical one, there was so much positive energy in the air, and it seemed to us in Libra that we had touched the sky with a finger, being able to play in the USA!"

You can hear Libra often draw upon the collective experience of the Italian progressive bands of the early '70s but by late '74 they perhaps realized things were going in a more commercial direction. Rather than making one of those crazy avant-garde albums that made the scene great in '72 and '73 Libra is taking only a part of that sound and rolling it into a rock album approach. You can hear the influence of American and British mid '70s rock here along with some lesser strains of space rock and folk in places. One of the bands I hear visited subtly on the Libra album are The Rolling Stones. While no one sings quite like Sir Mick, you can hear it in the pop sensibilities, in the background female vocals (a la Gimme Shelter) and in the playing. There is a live track on this album that has such a bar room feel that I'd swear I'm listening to The Ronnie Wood Band. Some moments toy with symphonic glories but more often than not it will veer towards fusion or a spacey rock jam. These guys play very well and the fusion flavored sections remind me of the Journey debut I just heard, where Neal Schon is wailing over a driving rhythm section and keys. Libra is to my taste a tale of two sides: Side one is of patchy quality that I would rate about 2-3 stars, but side two is a 4 star beauty. The 16-minute two-part opener "Nato Oggi" will add brisk acoustic guitars and melodic harmonies in and around these jams creating a decent, if somewhat unfocused mini epic. It is both the success and downfall of Libra's debut; there are nice moments and good variety of sound, but it sometimes feels a bit unfocused, a bit all over the place. The next track is the "live" (some claim it is but audience applause overdubbed) funky jam that brings a Stones side project or Dr. John piano bar jam to mind. The second side of the album changes gears again starting with the short title track, a sentimental, soulful Italian pop-song that tacks on the female backing vocals to an LA session jam ending-it could have been a Steely Dan outtake from "Can't Buy A Thrill." I love Dino Cappa's animated, funky bass popping through here and there--like some Little Feat or Doobie Brother's jam. The last two long tracks total almost 22 minutes and changes back to a hybrid slurry of funky fusion and occasional space-rock dalliance. There are some really worthwhile moments here with "Pegno D'Amore" really cookin' while the closer "Inquinamento" features spacey textures, strange bubbling sounds, peaceful mellotrons backing laid back guitar leads that ebb and flow in intensity. I'm almost reminded of the French spacers Carpe Diem on this track and that is surely a good thing. Love this one. It builds beautifully but with restraint and some uplifting melodies as a bonus. The second half of the track has great layered instrumentals where each member can be clearly heard and the delicacies of what they're playing superb.

If these thoughts seemed to lack coherence I jokingly blame it on Libra who keep you off balance with this hard-to-label, playful garden of '70s sounds. It really does have the "positive energy" Di Staso speaks of above. My initial reaction to the album was luke-warm at best but of course Libra has won me over and I end up enjoying this more with each play. This album will not satisfy those looking for classically structured keyboard symphonic prog but it may very much please fans of '70s style jazzy rock altered with a playful variety of influences and love for spirited jamming. Our own site Bio describes them as a "unique, personal take on jazz rock, funky grooves, classical instrumental, psychedelic-prog rock and electronic weirdness." The album is such that I think every person who hears it may have a slightly different take on its overall personality, which when you think about it not such a bad thing. I will understand those who find it a mess as much as those who find it a treasure. A definite "decide for yourself" piece of work but one that very much deserves to be rescued from oblivion and heard by prog fans. The 2003 reissue is a high-quality gatefold mini with thick cardboard and glossy finish, the inside reproducing the album's photos and lyrics. There is however no secondary CD booklet or bio. Highlights: Side 2 without question-I don't see how the last two long tracks would fail to please any progger.

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Send comments to Finnforest (BETA) | Report this review (#198484)
Posted Sunday, January 11, 2009 | Review Permalink
loserboy
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars Libra first recording is one of the great italian progressive rock albums! Libra were a mix of progressive and jazz fusion and really hit the mark with this album. The line up on this album included members from Buon Vecchio Charlie, Myosotis and Logan Dwight. Musically this album has characteristics of the classic 70's Ital-prog with strong allusions to the music of PFM and Buon Vecchio Charlie! Libra also on this album blend a certain soul-like funk to a few pieces which makes it very interesting (this is a direction they would continue to go in after this album). This band were full of originality and were incredible musicians! For those who like a less symphonic sound will love this album !

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Send comments to loserboy (BETA) | Report this review (#223793)
Posted Monday, June 29, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars I'm not quite sure what to make of this one. Libra's debut album has moments of brilliance, and times when I just want to turn it off. Is Musica e Parole a classic of the middle period ('74-'75), or better left forgotten? Every time I listen to it I end up somewhere in the middle, and that's exactly where this album ranks. Musica e Parole, with its strange blend of soft prog, R&B and arena rock never really finds itself and ends up just being average. This is a major disappointment, considering the talent on hand: Guitarist Nicola Di Staso and singer Frederico D'Andrea both came from Logan Dwight, keyboardist Sandro Centofani was in Buon Vecchio Charlie, and drummer David Walter and bassist Dino Cappa formed a solid rhythm section. But unfortunately, a band that looks good on paper never really gelled and ultimately folded after the next album. Ironically, the group would release their best album in name only - a reformed Libra, with the soundtrack to Schock in 1977.

The potential for Libra to succeed was clear, as the group secured a ten-album deal with Motown that was later rescinded. The Motown influence (pressure?) was immediate, and a funky soul-inspired tone permeates much of Musica e Parole. Were it not for the jazzy, fusion-style playing of Sandro Centofani I could completely discount this album as progressive at all. The long "Inquinamento" is really the only impressive moment on the entire disc, yet somehow the preceding 30 minutes are just compelling enough to hold your interest. "Nato Oggi'" kicks things off, fading in slowly and offering some real promise. The song begins sounding like Ibis and ends up sounding like PFM circa Chocolate Kings. The medley "Il Tempo E' Un Buon Amico/Forse E' Furia" covers ground that would later be perfected by the likes of Supertramp and Harmonium. The long suite is essentially an extended jam, intended primarily to showcase the talent of Nico Di Staso. His guitar playing is nondescript yet showy; Di Staso's acoustic guitar touch is far more effective, and used sparingly to good effect.

"Beyond the Fence" sounds like a cheesy Average White Band imitation and goes on far too long. The superior title track luckily saves the proceedings. "Musica e Parole" is perhaps the most representative song on the album, so if you don't like it then you probably won't like the rest. Featuring a likable piano part and even some unexpected time-signature changes, the song could very well have cracked the US charts had it been released as a single. The slow-starting "Pegno D'Amore" shows some fusion influences before careening into poppier fare. Finally, we reach "Inquinamento" and the best music herein. "Inquinamento" is a dazzling instrumental, reminiscent of Latte e Miele's "Pavana" or even Apoteosi's song of the same name. This 14-minute wonder saves the album from miring in completist-only status, and makes it easier to recommend (if only for collectors).

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Send comments to coasterzombie (BETA) | Report this review (#897897)
Posted Wednesday, January 23, 2013 | Review Permalink
5 stars I was first introduced to the band Libra by finding a used copy of the English language version of their debut lp, simply titled "Libra", on the Motown label, and it is one of the rare occasions where i actually prefer this to the Italian version of the album.(But that is another story, really)

I would say Libra's leader was the late Federico D'Andrea, though the resultant music on this album sounds like a band that is truly a collaborative effort; no one instrument or musical influence outshines any other. Even saying that, D'Andrea's presence is like a guiding light throughout-this musician/singer/songwriter had a very unique and spirited way of expression that is both quirky in style, but philosophical in lyrical perspective.

There are a whole host of musical influences here on Musica e Parole presented in a kind of musical melting pot-rock, jazz, funk, folk, and psych, that hold your interest all the way through this album. Side one is deeply moving in it's lyrical style and musical execution-with the last track being sung in English even on the Italian language version here, called Beyond The Fence. D'Andrea portrays himself sitting on a fence, which could symbolise whatever you may consider, and taunts the listener with "Or maybe you don't want to know, what is there, beyond the fence".

Side two is the more progressive of the two, opening with the title track, which is the emotional peak of the album, especially when the keys kick in. Federico's vocals are especially moving. The last two songs, Pegno D'Amore and Iquinamento are the instrumental highlight of Musica e Parole, with some extended instumental interplay that gets quite progressive. Iquinamento is the longest song here, and one really travels through a lot of different stages without losing focus for a second.

Libra's Musica e Parole is a delightful mid seventies, Italian prog excursion that tends to be overlooked, i guess because the band's follow up album "Winter Day's Nightmare" bombed (unjustifiably) and the band folded not long after. This debut album, either the Italian or English language version, qualifies as Libra's best record, and evidence of the fact that interesting music was still being created in the Italian prog world by newer groups in the mid seventies period. Five stars.

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Send comments to presdoug (BETA) | Report this review (#1079652)
Posted Thursday, November 21, 2013 | Review Permalink

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