It's been a while since I've been sent something for a review. It's always a perk to running a site like this. My latest was an excellent CD by guitarist Lou Pecci, called Spaghetti Western Themes on Nylon String Guitar. And the album's a real treat, let me tell ya'.
Releasing albums of well-known tunes is always a risky endeavor. Often, we have these set pieces in our heads on how they sound, and it can be challenging to listen to different interpretations of them. Sometimes they work, and sometimes they fail miserably. Pecci's album, with with the exception here and there, is solely played on nylon-string guitar (with overdubs), adding a bit of humility to many of these familiar, powerful themes, yet not diminishing them in any way, and is a very successful endeavor. There are 12 tunes on this self-produced album by Pecci, many of them tried-and-true classics of the genre that I was already familiar with.
The album opens up with the classic Titoli, from A Fistful of Dollars, easily recognizable in its first few measures. The melody is played with a nice richness (from what I could tell, due to a layering of parts, possibly double-tracked) that is a familiar technique that can thicken up a melody line. This is followed with the brief and understated 60 Seconds to What? from For a Few Dollars More. We are then treated to the somewhat airy main theme from Navajo Joe, also by Morricone. The dynamic shifts back to mellow, and understated with Padre Ramirez, from The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly. Like 60 Seconds to What?, it's nice to hear some of the more understated, lesser-known tracks from these famous scores.
Keeping with the Morricone repertoire, the next one is one of my own personal favorites, both on the album, and in terms of spaghetti themes in general, the theme from Death Rides a Horse. DRaH was one of the first non-Leone spaghettis I ever saw, and I distinctly remember hearing the almost frantic guitar in the background and being blown away by it. Pecci does it justice. Of course, due to the instrumentation of the recording, it doesn't have the bombast of the original, but it's nevertheless a great cut. This is followed by the pensive Quien Sabe?, and the reflective Journey, from The Great Silence, a track that slowly builds, yet never loses the great flow that exemplifies the tune.
The next one is also a real treat, You'd Better Smile, the crooned theme song from Viva Django! Personally, I've never been a fan of the crooned spaghetti themes; although melodically they are usually well-written, the over-the-top vocal stylings are a bit much for my tastes. Pecci does a good job, reinterpreting the vocal theme on his nylon-string, making the song very enjoyable, with none of the histronics of the original. The next track is an obscure one that I wasn't familiar with, Wherever You Go, Death, from Five Man Army. A gentle tune, Pecci's simple arrangement evokes images of the Mexican dessert, and would be very appropriate for a modern western.
The pace picks up with the next tune, Hey Amigo, It's Sabata, a lively, somewhat fiery number, very enjoyable and a great contrast to the previous track. The dynamic again shifts with the next tune, an excerpt from Morricone's theme from Duck, You Sucker, a rather breezy number. The last tune gives us a radical departure from the rest of the album, an original tune by Pecci, called Once Upon a Time..., which uses thematic concepts from Man With a Harmonica. Compositionally, Pecci does a fantastic job. Presentationally, it's a somewhat of a shift in tone, with Pecci using distorted electric guitar, and the Roland GR-30 guitar synth. I'm not a fan of guitar synths in most cases, but Pecci does it very tastefully, as he does with everything on the album. Of course, it's a matter of personal taste, and it does not diminish the album in any way. The composition itself is a beautiful work, and I couldn't help but wonder what it would have sounded like, had it gotten a treatment more in the style of the rest of the album.
Before writing this review, I asked Pecci if there was anything he'd like to share with readers about his thoughts behind the album. He said:
"Recorded with only an overdubbed electric nylon string guitar synthesizer (the synth used on the last track with a loop station), this CD was put together with an eye towards sequencing. The idea was to take a number of titles from different films, put them in the order of their release date (or close to it), and have them complement each other. While the Sergio Leone films are the best known in America, the others were all greatly popular in Italy and throughout Europe in the Sixties and Seventies. Composer Ennio Morricone is represented eight times here (nine if you include the harmonica figure from "Once Upon a Time in the West" borrowed for track 12, an original tune). The three remaining writers (Luis Enriquez Bacalov, Gian Piero Reverberi, and Marcello Giombini) are also important musical figures in the history of Spaghetti Westerns.
Overall, this is a fantastic album. It's a great album to relax or do work to, as it's not overly-long, and the selections themselves are somewhat brief, being cinematic music. Fans of classical guitar will also find it very enjoyable. Sonically, it sounds very good, with the guitar sounding very rich. But, don't take that as me saying it's just background music.. that's hardly the case. Pecci's interpretations and arrangements are passionate, done with an obvious reverence and respect for the material, not to mention a great technique, as well. As he mentioned, nine of the twelve tracks are Morricone compositions (or in the case of the last tune, Morricone-inspired), and all of the selections reflect a diversity of moods and feels. It was nice that he didn't go for all of the obvious tunes - there are some familiar and welcome ones (with Titoli and Death Rides a Horse being my favorites), but there are some lesser-known ones as well. I really hope that this sells enough that Pecci decides to do a follow-up. The genre is ripe for this kind of interpretation, as the nylon string guitar is already so much of a vital part of the "spaghetti sound". I couldn't help think of how other tunes, such as the theme from Day of Anger, would benefit from Pecci's treatment.
Highly recommended. You can listen to excerpts, below.
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