Lou Dalfin
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Lou Dalfin
W Jan D'L'Eiretto
Gibous, Bagase e Bandi

Lou Dalfin & Sustraia
Radio Occitania Libra

All titles from Felmay, Italy (www.felmay.it)

The Italian label Felmay has done music lovers a great service by reissuing three recordings by the Occitan revival band Lou Dalfin. Lou Dalfin has been driven by the vision and accomplished multi-instrumentalist Sergio Berardo. Originally founded in 1982, the Lou Dalfin project sought to revitalize Occitanian music: Occitanian culture is found across southern France, into Italy, and also in Spain. Use of the language has long been a source of cultural pride, a statement of identity, and a political act, as 'Occitania' could be considered a country that exists within and across the boundaries of European countries as a cultural presence. The music and language have often been associated with medieval troubadours, and Occitanian music shares some of the ancient qualities of that repertoire. In 1990, Sergio Berardo revived the Lou Dalfin group and he was determined to take the music in radical new directions by incorporating a whopping dose of rock, jazz, and reggae influences, and by utilizing a barrage of instruments both traditional and modern in order to create a massive wall of sound. Felmay's three reissues allow listeners to trace the development of Lou Dalfin over the course of the 1990s.

The oldest album, W Jan D'L'Eiretto, was originally released in 1992. Of the three reissues, W Jan D'L'Eiretto is easily the tamest and most 'traditional' sounding. The music program sounds like the Occitan music that one might encounter at a village festival, such as those that appear in the documentary portion of Lou Dalfin's 2005 DVD Al Temps de Festa en Occitania. There are some wonderful moments, such as the gorgeous accordion work on the "Tres Valser" set and its jazzy ending, and the harmonica introduction and country and western feel that emerges on "En Calant De Cimiez." Lou Dalfin's folk-rock side is present, and it has a 'classic' feeling, such as on the "Suite" that features "L'armee Espagnole Dans Nos Valles," enhanced with some gritty crunch and low-end fuzz. Much of the excitement comes from Sergio Berardo's hurdy-gurdy playing, which ascends to prominence in Lou Dalfin's sound, as at the end of "Attesa" and during the "Tres Scottish" sets. Yet while the credits list a lot of different instrumentation - Lou Dalfin has called in some horn and flute players on this album - the 'full on' punch of Lou Dalfin has not quite congealed.

By 1995's Gibous, Bagase e bandi, Sergio Berardo and his band mates have found their groove. This is a storming CD of loud Occitanian purpose and vision, hammered home from the onset with the bouncing "Lo Gibos/Neu." Here, hurdy-gurdy, sax honks, and a drum set that sounds as if Riccardo Serra is pounding it to pieces announce Lou Dalfin's headlong plunge into rock. Furthermore, there is much more variation on Gibous, Bagase e bandi than on W Jan D'L'Eiretto, and some of the tunes, such as 'La Vacha Malha' and "La Dancarem Pus," are Occitanian chestnuts also performed by the group Gai Saber. Surprises and excitement abound on Gibous, such as hearing Berardo's breathing into his flute on the "Suite de Rigaudons," which sets up a virtual explosion into strutting folk-rock led by the hurdy-gurdy and guitar, trimmed by a tasty horn section. "Rossinholet Sarvatge," a traditional tune, is decimated by screaming guitars and drums, while the medieval-sounding set of "Francois/Joan Peirol/Per Ben La Dancar…" serves to anchor this outing's historical roots. Further, the "Lou Dub" that closes Gibous, Bagase e bandi shows some real risk-taking, as "La Dancarem Pus" is sunk into dub, echoing horns, and deep space.

Radio Occitania Libra, a live concert recorded in 1997 with the Basque band Sustraia, significantly ups the incorporation of rock elements into the Lou Dalfin tapestry. The show kicks off with a breakneck attack on the song "Bandits" from Gibous, Bagase e bandi, and even "Jan D'L'Eiretto" is played extremely fast, a punkier version of the rather polite version of the tune from the 1992 album. One element of sound that is missing on Radio Occitania Libra are the striking horn sections that Lou Dalfin had begun to experiment with; on Radio, both Lou Dalfin and Sustraia are much more in stripped-down, rock mode.

One aspect of these reissues that could have been improved would be the lack of liner notes. I was not necessarily expecting any notes in English, but some written notes placing these releases into historical context would have been welcomed. The listener would like to know, for instance, why Lou Dalfin is performing with Sustraia on Radio Occitania Libra, and how the bands got together. I can hazard a guess, which would have to do with Occitan and Basque cultures both being regarded as part of the 'Celtic fringe.' Both cultures are marginalized, and both have utilized music to assert their presence. Still, it is not entirely clear what the different members of each band contribute to each song on the album. Another suggestion would have been to package these three reissues into a mid-line priced box set with a more elaborated booklet of notes and photos, enabling fans of Lou Dalfin to easily purchase these essential Occitan recordings as an attractive keepsake. Nonetheless, these reissues provide for a very welcome reappraisal of Lou Dalfin's musical trajectory. - Lee Blackstone

Lou Dalfin online: www.loudalfin.it

Lou Dalfin CDs are available from cdRoots

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