It is a confession laced with irony, but nonetheless a sincere one, when I admit Paolo Conte, whom I associate with nostalgia and melancholy, is nevertheless quick to put a smile on my face when I hear him.
The fun begins with the opening track on Snob, Si sposa l’Africa, a lively and humorous introduction to fifteen songs, poems or cabaret-ballads, call them what you will, all coming in under four minutes, and sensuously evocative.
Evocative of what ? You may well ask, but take your pick: a life well lived, a septuagenarian’s wily and eclectic take on the world, paying homage to music, to colour and to love.
Following the recent passing of Georges Moustaki and Charles Aznavour, as synonymous with the weathered singer-songwriter’s view of the world as Brel and Piaf, it is to elder statesmen like Conte to whom we now turn for our regular fix of poetic fragments of brief encounters.
The scaffolding behind Conte’s songs are a medley of street reportage and poetry: in Si sposa l’Africa (Africa Weds), ‘the bride is young and sweet and has jewels of blue wood,’ in Argentina, ‘everyone is hollering down at the port, and the vessels shout let’s go, before a massive American sea, spitting out a dream gone old.’
Conte’s trademark, however, is the smoker’s voice, the cabaret-style intimacy, the primacy of the piano, the midnight beat of the bass, the gaiety of the music, the simulation of live performance.
His laid back but dramatic and throaty delivery, a gruff smoker and crooner’s voice, and his penchant for reflecting on the ordinary, but suffused with colour (‘the summer with its smile that is habitual, encircled a by a though that’s autumnal tropical’ from Tropical) is irresistible, especially when the music is similarly effusive.
If your knowledge of Italian is scatty, fear not, the CD features translations of all the songs, but you won’t need to read a word to appreciate the quite beautiful music, a jazz soundtrack for a well lived life