Epifani Barbers - Marannui
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Epifani Barbers
Forrest Hill Records

cd cover The Epifani Barbers (named after the bearers of the flame and passers of the tradition in Puglia) have created a debut album that is full of zest and zeitgeist, lovely and lively, modern and masterful. Its driving force is Mimmo Epifani and his mandolin playing. (Captain Corelli, eat your heart out.) The vocals by Manuela Loffredo, Franco Castiglia and Epifani are spotless. The lyrics are intriguing and poetic, sometimes very funny, always accessible and to-the-point. The sound is a revelation: this is tradition for the 21st Century that burns as hip as Manu Chao, as perfectly executed and grounded to the tradition as Buena Vista Social Club.

Rapping and echoes of Africa feature on "Marannui" and "Uenosapistacuiet," the latter sung in Italamerican but sounding like it comes from the heart of Africa. That is followed by a modern take on tarantella going by the name of "Ci criti o non ci criti" that sounds like one scary son of a song. Its lyrics, about being bitten by a critter and being in serious pain and probably hallucinating, evoke the feeling perfectly. Once the song is over, you'll feel like you've just been in a rough neighborhood - before being bitten by a snake and getting drunk courtesy of a posse of gangsta rappers. It's crazy, and very appropriate. That gives way to "Amsterdam," which sounds like the sweetest thing ever.

A lot of the appeal of this record is due to the mastery with which those abrupt changes are made. "Vientu" is Mother Orient incarnate, with an underlining bass line that sounds like the buzz of a muted mobile phone combined with a beautiful female vocal. "Suspiri tua" is one of the more traditional sounding tracks, until it develops a rap vocal and a free jazz solo, all working to describe a song of sexual desire... or is that frustration? This is not a travesty of tradition but a reinvention: it's something that only someone who has studied under venerable old masters but knows his own times can shine through. This is followed by a more playful take and reinvention of tradition in "Lu re," your usual prince-falls-in-love-with-poor-maiden, prince-dresses-up-as-a-nun-in-order-to-make-out-with-said-maiden, prince-and-maiden-get-along-perfectly-well-thank-you-very-much, said-maiden-bears-the-visible-results-of-said-affair, father-of-maiden-is-overtly-pissed-and-wants-to-kill-prince-without-saying-so tale. Another guaranteed hit should certainly be the Hypochondriac Old Man's Anthem of "Duluri," immediately followed by the very political (but not polemical) immigration saga of "Cinq." The latter also has a beautiful mandolin line and a gorgeous abstract female vocal. And then "Zingaro" with some awesome mandolin playing. And all that in just under 40 minutes!

I cannot really fathom the fact that all this cornucopia of sounds is created by basically a mandolin (or mandoloncello or mandola), an accordion and keyboards, a bass, percussion and a guest musician playing cymbal. The instruments used also pint to the modernity of the sound: this doesn't sound like an ethnic record, although it most certainly is. Rather, it has a musical affinity with the work of the Greek artist Thanassis Papakonstantinou, where you have modern songs that just delve into tradition when they have to do so for purely musical reasons.

Mimmo Epifani and his band of Barbers have created one of the best records of the year: This is by turns a bellyaching funny, heartwarmingly emotional, deeply political, majestically satirical and always perfectly executed record that belongs in the musical vanguard while being deeply rooted in tradition. - Nondas Kitsos

Available from cdRoots

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