The Occitan speaking lands of Italy have brought forth their fair share of contemporary and folk musicians, and of these Lou Dalfin is probably the longest-lived and best-known band. In this, their thirteenth album in 35 years, Sergio Berardo's band continues on its folk-rock course, which has generally become more rock as the years have passed, especially if you consider the hurdy-gurdy a rock instrument. It took five years since their last effort, and it's certainly worth the wait.
At first, my impression was that it was too much like 2011's sparkling Cavalier Faidit, and perhaps not as good. Had the band lost a step? The band had moved away from its folk roots and into rock during this era, without losing its Occitan flavour, or its Occitan language. They developed an original blend of roots rock, not unlike the famous Basque group Oskorri. However, a continued listening confirms Lou Dalfin is persuing its evolution as one of the most interesting bands in South Europe.
Paolo Ferrari's recent book, and its accompanying Dalfipedia CD outlines this evolution from its mountain roots in the 90s to the 'new' Lou Dalfin which took place in the group's second decade, to the current group which continues to change and grow.
Like a number of contemporary bands from the Eastern Mediterranean region (Il Muro del Canto, Goulamas'K, La Gossa Sorda, Du Bartas, Dixebra) they are developing a true folk-rock, a music with the energy and song structure of rock, and a combination of rock and typically folk instruments, songs that might be either traditional or modern but are rooted in a specific place in the world.
My own past Dalfin favourites included two tracks from 2007's I Virasoleilhs, "Bracabosc" (a story inspited by a graffito in Occitan) and the swinging, manouche, "Occitania e basta." Both are real standouts with their own signature beat and style, and the title track of Cavalier Faidit.
Other than "Los Taxis de Barcelona" a quirky manouche-influenced piece driven by mandolins, they stay the course on Musica Endemica. From the rock'n'reel instrumental "Brandi di Cavals" to the medley of bourrees, "Seguida de Borreias..." the eight-piece band finds a way to keep the pace alive.
A continued listen reveals a band leader in Sergio Berardo who can still tell a flavourful and emotive tale, supported by a band of real talent. The songs have a strong dramatic structure and a real energy, underpinned by an excellent rhythm section (Riccardo Serra, drums, Carlo Revello, bass). Serra drives the music along (often with the hurdy-gurdy), framing the vocal with irrepressible playing.
As usual, Berardo carries the lion's share of the vocal, whether on storytelling mode as in a waltz such as "Lo Beata" or rocking on "Lo Darrier Gardian". Band members are founder Berardo (hurdy-gurdy, etc); plus Dino Tron, (accordions), Riccardo Serra (percussion), original members of the second formation; plus Enrico Gosmar (guitar), Mario Poletti (mandolins etc), Chiara Cesano (violin), Carlo Revello (bass), Enrica Bruna (flutes), who have joined over the past 3-4 discs.
Berardo also contributes the bulk of the song material, which explores the usual Lou Dalfin subjects, Occitan identity and history. Lou Dalfin tunes are complex, but eminently hummable and begin to play over and over in your brain after a while.
The strongest track in my view is "Tèrra 1209," a classic Lou Dalfin folk rocker with a powerful vocal by Berardo, and a nice guitar lick by Gosmar, their guitar lead for the past decade. If you were raised on the Clancy's, Ewan McColl, Dafydd Iwan or Stan Rogers, you'll recognize the kind of anthem this is.
"I Vilejants" is also worth mentioning, as kind of the counterpart of "Occitania e basta" with a very melodic bass line, sax, and a pretty guitar solo. It feels rooted in the mountains of Cuneo, a bit Occitan, a bit Piedmontese.
The aforementioned "Brandi di Cavals" is a lively instrumental dance tune led by Tron on the organetto, and, as this clip shows, the locals know the steps.
With 14 strong tracks (including the short "Intro") Lou Dalfin adds to their legacy; in a worthy and long-awaited followup to Cavalier Faidit and I Virasoleilhs. As they say in their most famous early song "Sem Encar Ici," "We are Still Here," and they certainly are. - David Cox
Find the artists online: www.loudalfin.it
Moussu T e lei Jovents