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La Lionetta
Ottoni & Sentimini
FolkClub Ethnosuoni (

cd cover Party to the Piedmontese folk revival since 1977, albeit with an extended hiatus beginning in the mid-1980s, La Lionetta cultivates an irreverent attitude toward Italian roots music, and just about everything else. An adept group of singers and multi-instrumentalists, the group transcends its own local foundations to assimilate in turn the influences of Balkan brass bands, Turkish classical ensembles and the Klezmer kapelye, shot through with percussive traditions from India, North and West Africa, and the Caribbean. Their music does what folk music worthy of the name has always done: lampoon the high-and-mighty, soothe the down-and-out, and celebrate life in all its incommensurable contradictions.

Consider "The Saracens," whose unassuming accordion introduction folds swiftly into a menacing percussive chorus that references Italy's contemporary concern with immigration from the south. Laced with the wailing Eastern flavor of the cornamusa, the lyrics (in Italian, with sometimes awkward English translations, with which I've taken liberty here) warn:

The Saracens are here...
Oh my God, what fear, what anguish
The Saracens have arrived...
hide your women and your children
lock the doors and stay inside.
MP3 (short excerpt)
The organ-grinding oompah chutzpah of "The World Upside Down" ("Il mondo alla rovescia"), drawing upon a Piedmontese folk saying or rigmarole, conveys another facet of the group's political edge:
No house had a lock
doors were left open because nobody was afraid
and in the suburbs, the only white powder seen and used
was baking soda...

Soldiers were back from war
replaced by ministers and presidents
those in the factories worked only a few hours
and some people lived without T.V.

Night after night, like [a hemorrhage]
Swiss refugees went to Albania
the sea was unpolluted, the sky was blue
but if you don't believe it... you're right!
"The Sky over Turin" plays upon the verbal complications of another Piedmontese rigmarole, set against a rollicking Celtic figure, the tuba's subdued blast, a cheeky vocal call-and-response, whistling worthy of Monty Python, crusty operatic echoes, and radio broadcast snippets. Ditto "La Lionetta," whose bagpipes, booming percussion and dramatic vocals are those of a band that came to play, with all the term connotes, and then some. "Il Serpente" offers a polyrhythmic parable about a snake that never concerned itself with its venomous character until the day it bit its own tongue by mistake. La Lionetta always concerns itself with life's daily pleasures, and its untenable demands, as when the singer rejects the parish priest's recommendation to drink in moderation: "His Latin to hell! I know he drinks as well!" Call it what you will, among the most compelling of contemporary Italian folk revival offerings, this is music from out there. - Michael Stone

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