Some Italian rock and pop singers have opted to record in languages other than Italian in the hope of making themselves more marketable outside of Italy. English is a popular option, and some Italian vocalists have recorded in spagnolo and gone after the vast Spanish-speaking market (Italian pop star Laura Pausini, for example, records in both Italian and Spanish and is as popular in Spain and Latin America as she is in Italy). And some Italian artists have such a poetic way with the Italian language that it would be a shame if they didn’t record in Italian; Hamid Grandi is a perfect example. The Milan-based singer/songwriter performs in Italian exclusively on Corde (which means Strings in Italian), and that is a plus because the Italian language really lets him express himself emotionally.
Grandi, who produced Corde himself and wrote all of the nine selections, favors a folk-rock/adult alternative approach that draws on influences (both past and present) from different parts of the world. Grandi sometimes brings to mind American singer/songwriter John Mayer, but he also has direct or indirect old school influences such as Scotland’s Donovan and Northern Ireland’s Van Morrison. Grandi (who plays acoustic guitar on this album and is a classically trained musician) also has a healthy appreciation of East European gypsy folk and sometimes combines that Romanian or Bulgarian gypsy element with folk-rock and adult alternative. “Regalo la Vita” (“I Give My Life”), “In Cielo e in Terra” (“In the Sky and on the Earth”), “Insieme, Insieme” (“Together, Together”) and the brooding “Quand’è Miracolo” (“When It Is a Miracle”) all have that East European gypsy influence. Grandi isn’t writing in any East European languages, but he obviously appreciates the melodies and harmonies of East European countries.
One musician who helps Grandi achieve a folksy ambiance on Corde is Alessandro Santaniello, who plays the cello. Santaniello’s playing is quite soulful, and like Grandi, he has no problem finding the parallels between the folk-rock of the English-speaking countries and the traditional acoustic folk music of Eastern Europe. Santaniello’s presence on Corde is a definite plus.
However, saying that Grandi is folksy is not to say that he can’t be poppy as well; one doesn’t automatically rule out the other. And his pop instincts serve him well on “Click” and the catchy opener “Casomai.” But “Il Criceto” (“The Hamster”), on the other hand, has a moody, dusky melody that borders on goth-rock.
Those who have studied Italian will notice that Grandi’s use of that romance language is quite Northern Italian-sounding; he certainly doesn’t sound like he is from, say, Naples or Reggio di Calabria (two cities in the southern part of Italy). There are strong regional differences between the way Italian is spoken in Milan in Northeastern Italy and the way it is spoken down south in the Campania or Calabria regions. But of course, listeners who don’t speak any Italian won’t understand his lyrics and won’t be thinking about how one might use the language in Lombardy versus Campania or Calabria. What they will notice, if they give this album a chance, is that Grandi sings with a great deal of feeling and has strong melodic instincts. Indeed, it’s evident that the reflective “Questestate” and the ballad “Lola” (not to be confused with the Kinks’ 1970 hit) have attractive melodies even if one doesn’t speak any Italian. Some listeners refuse to listen to any singers who are performing in a language that they don’t understand, but other listeners can connect with music on a melodic, harmonic or rhythmic level even if they don’t understand any of the lyrics. It depends on the individual. And Corde, hopefully, will reach both Italian speakers and those who don’t speak Italian.
Grandi shows considerable promise on Corde, which is clearly an album of depth.
Review by Alex Henderson
4 stars (out of 5)