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Honorary Collaborator
4 stars The last few years have seen many Italian seventies prog bands reforming with Alphataurus, Museo Rosenbach and Biglietto Per L'Inferno to name a few, all releasing new studio material. Another that can be added to that list is Tugs, a band from Livorno who were a little late for the golden years forming at the back end of the decade. Perhaps partly for this reason they never managed to release any music and split up in the early eighties. Now they're back to finish what they started and Europa Minor sees the completion of an album originally intended for release over thirty years ago. Perhaps this has been a blessing in disguise as vocalist/guitarist Pietro Contorno stated in a recent interview that the band severely lacked the resources and all but the basic instruments to realise the project. Now they have had the opportunity to record the music the way they visualised it at the time and have been able to add a diverse range of instruments including violins, flute, accordion and mandolin alongside their standard rock band instrumentation.

Europa Minor certainly doesn't sound like a debut album, but then I guess they've had a long time to plan it. It's a very ambitious project based on European history - where would you start with that! With Waterloo actually which sounds more celtic than Italian but as the album progresses it becomes apparent that fellow countrymen PFM are a strong influence. Their symphonic/folk prog is not exclusively Italian based though and the bands claims of being Influenced by British prog such as Camel, Mike Oldfield and Jethro Tull will not go unnoticed. It's a remarkably mature piece of work with strong musicianship without going for overly flash, everyone playing their part perfectly. There are moments of bombast with heavier guitar riffing but that's not what Europa Minor is about, rich melodies and tastefully restrained instrumentation weaving together to form an intricate whole being the order of the day.

A strong debut for sure then which would have been unlikely to have sounded anywhere near as good as this if they'd managed to release it back in the seventies. Hopefully now they've got it out at last they'll go on to release some new music. On the strength of this I certainly hope so.

Report this review (#1003446)
Posted Monday, July 22, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Italian band TUGS was formed sometime in the 1970's, but in their initial phase that lasted until the mid 1980's they didn't manage to record any material. Some 20 odd years later Tugs reunited, and work commenced to finalize and record the material they had created when they first started out. Come 2013 and this process was finalized with the release of their debut album "Europa Minor" on the Italian AMS label.

One thing that struck me when listening to this album was the frequent use of piano textures, especially on the first ten of the twelve tracks. A detail that generally makes me suspect that many of the compositions started out as piano creations that have later been expanded with arrangements of a more sophisticated nature. If this is the case for this band as well I don't know, but it was a distinct association I got on many of these songs.

Apart from that Tugs is a band that have a distinct stylistic expression that may be described as a blend of folk music and symphonic progressive rock. With, if I'm not much mistaken, with a fair few references to traditional folk and court dances from medieval times as a source for quite a few of the folk oriented passages.

In a balanced mix that comes across as gentle and smooth even when the arrangements are richly layered we're presented with a nifty variety of symphonic progressive rock that has a distinct vintage yet timeless feel to it. Piano motifs are almost ever present, supplemented by acoustic and electric guitars, with a firm but sophisticated bass and drums backing. The symphonic details are just as often conveyed by acoustic instruments as by keyboards if not even more, and we're treated to some truly elegant harmony sections with flute, strings or both harmonizing with the electric guitar solo to produce symphonic arrangements. When keyboards besides the piano are utilized this is done in an equally smooth manner admittedly, but it is the guitar and acoustic instrument interactions that charmed me first and foremost.

As this is an Italian band with Italian lyrics, I presume some might find it to be of interest that the vocals in this case are fairly void of the archetypical Latin dramatic effects, beyond the ones that comes natural with the language.

Just how much or not this band is similar to the classic Italian progressive rock bands I can't really tell, as I'm not well versed in this musical landscape. But for references outside of Italy there are a fair few nods in the direction of Jethro Tull here, first and foremost some brief but distinct guitar and flute detail that those familiar with Jethro Tull will recognize. While fans of Camel should enjoy the instrumental Il Sogno di Jennifer. If this compositions isn't a homage to Camel by plan it most certainly is so by accident. From a personal point of view I'd select La Brigata Dei Dotteri and Il Pianto as the highlights of this fine album, while those with a more keen interest in the material of a more purebred folk-oriented nature might opt for Canzone Per Un Anno and Nanou as the ones to give an initial listen to.

All in all Tugs very much belated debut album is a fine specimen of it's kind. Symphonic progressive rock with more of an acoustic atmosphere to it and with a fair few details of folk music flavoring the proceedings, creating an elegant and sophisticated breed of timeless but vintage sounding symphonic progressive rock that should have a fairly broad appeal. With those who have a soft spot for Italian bands with vocalists singing in their native tongue as a logical key audience.

Report this review (#1009469)
Posted Thursday, August 1, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars Here comes one more marvelous Italian release from this year. Immediately I fell in live with the music which blends folk instruments with symphonic vibes touching the best asmosphere you can think of. Unfortunately the second half of the record don't match the first half and it's disfavoured of its length. The 1970s releases has an advantage in their shorteness, they didn't need fillers. I won't go so far to call any of these songs fillers, the quality is very high.

This music is mostly perfect. The entering song "Waterloo" proves everything you want in adventurous experiments, folky instruments and great vocals of course spiced with good melody. The albums cover is amongst the best this year, very elegant and Tugs title "Europa minor" makes us think of another symphonic group, Turkish "Asia minor"(which I have to listen to). As well as the cover seems many of the songs be about historical actions like the amazing "Pietroburgo 1824" which shows a Russian feeling(it could be the mandolin thinks it is a balalajka) and a vital melody. As I use to say: "wonderfulidado!". "La brigata dei dottori" is as good as those mentioned and "Il sogno di Jennifer" is also as exuberant as prog can be in its best moments. Those tracks has such a rich soundscape, sprung of many instruments and a bunch of great ideas. Every track is worth listening but I think I have mentioned the best ones.

The only thing this music loses on is that it's too much of it. A 70s standard in lenght would have given this a brigher place in history. The worst track is more than good so I wouldn't complain about details.

Tugs shows to be a ten-man-ensemble made up by bass(Bruno Rotolo), drums(Fabio Giannitrapani), vocals and guitar(Pietro Contorno), electric guitar(Nicola Melani), keyboards(Marco Susini), cello(Martina Benifei), flute(Claudio Fabiani), mandolin(Antonio Ghezzani), violin(Francesco Carmignani) and percussion(Matteo Scarpettini). Once again I also want to praise the cover picture! Tugs record Europa Minor is recommended for you and I hope people will discover it, 18 ratings isn't enough. Four strong stars!

All songs: (10/10) Pietroburgo 1824, Waterloo, La brigata dei dottori, Il sogno di Jennifer, (9/10) La Gloria (8/10) La Corte, Le Colline de Ems, Il pianto, Nostra signora Borghesia, Canzone per un anno (7/10) I bambini d'Inverno, Nanou

Report this review (#1031048)
Posted Monday, September 9, 2013 | Review Permalink
4 stars I Tugs began life in Livorno in 1978 on the initiative of Pietro Contorno, Nicola Melani, Bruno Rotolo, Michele Lippi, and Claudio Cecconi. They were influenced by Italian prog bands such as Premiata Forneria Marconi, Banco del Mutuo Soccorso and Le Orme and by Italian singer-songwriters as Fabrizio De André and Angelo Branduardi but in the eighties progressive rock was out of fashion and they had no chance to release an album in the early phase of their career. After a long hiatus the band re-formed and started to play live again mixing music and theatre with the contribute of a company of comedians. In 2013 they finally released a début album on the independent label AMS/BTF, Europa Minor, with a line up featuring founder members Pietro Contorno (vocals, guitar), Nicola Melani (guitar) and Bruno Rotolo (bass) along with Marco Susini (keyboards) and Fabio Giannitrapani (drums, percussion). During the recording session they were helped by Claudio Fabiani (flute), Francesco Carmignani (violin), Martina beinfei (cello), Matteo Scarpettini (percussion) and Antonio Ghezzani (guitar, mandola, mandolin) who contributed to enrich the musical fabric with excellent results. According to the liner notes "Europa Minor" is a clandestine collection of literary and musical works, fragments of poetry, tales, scores, drawings and images preserved by a group of travelling artists and on stage all this stuff comes to life thanks to all the musicians and actors involved. Well, in the absence of the comedians, listening to this album we will have to complete the musical tableaux with our imagination.

The opener "Waterloo" is a lively track about the battle of Waterloo. On a marching beat you can imagine the armies moving with a martial pace. Then the lyrics depict the stench of death soaring from the battlefield while Lady Fortune dances on the fate of the heroes like the wind among the trees. Now she turns her back to the glorious Emperor who once ruled all over Europe, the man whom five years of exile would convert into a martyr, and fifteen of restoration elevate to the rank of a god1 . The country around Waterloo is soaked in blood... "The crops are laughing at the honours of the heroes...".

"Il re e il poeta" (The king and the poet) is a complex piece divided into two parts. The first part, "La corte" (The court), describes in musics and words the arrival of a poet in the court of the king of an European country. The poet comes from the Middle-East and brings new secrets and magical scrolls. People gather around, they come to the king's hall to listen to the stories of the poet about heroes, wars, demons and death. The poet tells old fairy-tales and unfolds arcane mysteries, then king ask him to predict the future of his kingdom... "The frontiers of my world lie beyond Time / Cries and repentances of men and peoples made this kingdom fit to challenge Time / Now I ask you, poet / To tell us the future of my kingdom / And in your name let's celebrate...". The second part, "La gloria" (The glory), describes the sardonic answer of the poet... "Time passes by and the veil of a rapidly forgotten age falls down on the memories... As rain that will get lost in time / Your name will be erased / Millennia will bend on you / And your fruit will be consumed / It's the glory...".

"La brigata dei dottori" (The physicians brigade) is a reflective, bitter-sweet track about real knowledge. What is the secret of the man who hides inside yourself? Science can't answer this question, physicians and eminent people can't give you any useful advice when you are confronted with the mystery of your ego and they could become for you just an awkward bunch of charlatans... "Leave behind you your fire / And read the signs in the sky... And my face broke into a thousand faces / And my hands crushed into a thousand hands...".

"Pietroburgo 1824" (Petersburg, 1824) takes you on board of an old steam engine train directed to Saint Petersburg, the Imperial capital of Russia founded by the Tsar Peter the Great in 1703. Here Fyodor Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment was set along with many other novels by Russian writers as Pushkin and Gogol. The music and lyrics depict the city on a windy day in November 1824 with beautiful, evocative musical and poetical colours. "On the roofs and in the streets / That November wind was raging against the men...".

"Le colline di Ems" (Ems hills) begins with a strummed acoustic guitar. The mood is dreamy but there's a vein of melancholia. In a dark night old memories come back... "He painted his thoughts like the sun / And the memory of the colours of the street gave way to the clear air / And that was his last dream / Then the shadows closed his gaze / Amidst the fogs of dawn...".

"Il pianto" (The cry) is darker and filled with an exotic sense of mystery. Music and lyrics describe the strange dialogue between a man and his shadow where the borders of reality get blurred. Eventually a desperate cry springs out from broken dreams and deluded hopes.

The following "Il sogno di Jennifer" (Jennifer's dream) is an excellent instrumental featuring a perfectly balanced mix of classical influences and rock. It leads to the committed "Nostra Signora Borghesia" (Our Lady Bourgeoisie) that depicts an old lady with a heart of ice, covered with gold and dressed up in all her vanity. It's a poetical denounce of social injustice and hypocrisy. There's no violence in the music and lyrics but a drum roll towards the end seems to suggest an impending execution... "Dance with us, my old lady...".

"I bambini d'inverno" (The children in winter) draws the image of a child in a cold house. Outside there's a high wall, cold as a blade, that makes the heart bleeding. There are children in the snowy streets who are playing and moving around like human crumbs in a sea of lights and concrete. They can fly high, over the wall... "The children in winter / Coffee drops in the white sea of this hell...".

"Canzone per un anno" (Song for a year) is a charming ballad with a slightly Medieval flavour and strong classical influences. It depicts a Northern mountainous landscape. In January barbaric hordes from the forests stormed through the valleys and until April the crying of the women resounded all around, there were no celebration in honour of God Pan and of the elves. In May the snow melted and the corpses of the dead were buried. In June there was a new battle and the invaders were defeated. In September the vineyards gave their fruits and Bacchus was celebrated, then the winter came back. All this events are seen through the eyes of a little girl... "Open your eyes, my little darling / May will come back / Dance peacefully your cheerfulness...".

The conclusive track, "Nanou", is set in France in 1943 and tells of a meeting between a desperate, suicidal girl and some partisans who rescue her from the cold water of the river. The meeting is suddenly interrupted by the arrival of the Germans. You can hear the shots... "A thousand air drops are drawing me away from you...".

On the whole, I think that this is a very good album, a labour of love filled with passion and great musicianship that is really worth listening to.

Report this review (#1044122)
Posted Wednesday, September 25, 2013 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars Tugs were not a dissimilar case to Italian bands from the far past, that didn't earn the fame they deserved.Formed in Livorno in 1978 around Pietro Contorno (vocals, guitar), Nicola Melani (guitar), Bruno Rotolo (bass), Michele Lippi (keyboards) and Claudio Cecconi (drums), they tried to mix Classic Italian Prog with melodic Singer/Songwriting stylings.Their music came to another level during the 80's, when they performed their material on theater stages with the support of technicians and artists.It was around 1985, when Marco Susini joined Tugs on keyboards, but the band had little live left in the tank.In the new millenium the band returned with Contorno, Melani, Rotolo and Susini from the old line-up and new drummer Fabio Giannitrapani.2013 sees the official debut of the band ''Europa Minor'' on AMS, dedicated to the European history.The album features guest musicians Martina Benifei on cello, Claudio Fabiani on flute, Antonio Ghezzani on mandolin, Francesco Carmignani on violin and Matteo Scarpettini on percussion.

Another case of a band that could produce some lovely music and the revival of Progressive Rock gave them the chance to offer an interesting album.Tugs sound quite close to acts such as IL CASTELLO DI ATLANTE and PHAEDRA, beautiful Italian vocals surrounded by melodic still intricate musicianship with symphonic and folky parts, characterized by romantic textures, intricate interplays and grand breaks.Very balanced style, where flutes and violin often prevail, always supported by dreamy piano interludes and deep, keyboard moves.But the electric moments are not absent either.A great and energetic rhythm section provides the needed spark and Nicola Melani's appears to be a fantastic guitarist, delivering interesting lead parts and some great solos.As with every Italian band of the style, Classical Music is a major influence on Tugs' musicianship and the arrangements contain big symphonic sections with keyboards, strings and flute in the forefront.But an album dedicated to European history is sure to have also a pronounced Ethnic vibe, thus acoustic guitars and more traditional instrumentation often take over in rural textures, which still hold a secure rock background.Rich and melodic music, guided by the 30-years experience of the musicians within the Progressive Rock standards.

Over an hour of dreamy Italian Progressive Rock in a classic style.Melodious themes, symphonic movements, folky references and plenty of quirky instrumental passages.Warmly recommended.

Report this review (#1164253)
Posted Tuesday, April 22, 2014 | Review Permalink

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