This record, La Tarantella del Gargano, has such an amazing blend of fierceness and tenderness. As this referenced review points out (it’s been a long time since I’ve seen the booklet), it’s mostly duets with voice: a Spanish (acoustic) guitar and a slack guitar. There’s some accordion here and there, too.
Just to get this out of the way: this record has finally arrived in my “Hidden Gems” playlist, some 950-odd days after I found it at the library in May of 2006. Just for quick reference, that’s longer than Barack Obama’s presidential run. I had mixed feelings after borrowing it and when I saw it in my sonoteca I kind of wondered what I was thinking of when I took it out. Plus, the individual artists aren’t listed in the booklet, which is a bugaboo of mine. So I’m ashamed to say it languished in the queue for a very long time.
But no longer! Now it’s time for me to describe it and share what I like about it with you.
First, it’s dance music, which makes it automatically more interesting. The guitar parts are pretty straightforward strumming and the slack guitar adds a weird, minor-key drone that complements the voice. I have no idea what they’re singing about, or what language they’re singing in, only that I assume that it’s some kind of incomprehensible Italian dialect.
Now I know that throughout all the time you and I have known each other, it has always been I who has had the lust for heavily rhythmic songs in minor keys sung in incomprehensible languages at the top of the singer’s lungs, and it will always be so. I will encourage you to listen to these fantastic records, like Sory Kandia Kouyate’s “Souaressi,” and Mari Boine’s “Etno Jenny,” as well as Lizzy Mercier Descloux, and you will politely assent, then go back to whatever you were doing before I grabbed you and dragged you over to the hi-fi set, like taking rust off of old tools, to the happy sounds of Taj Mahal, or Robert Cray, or Delaney & Bonnie & Friends. It’s been so for years, and I’ve learned to accept it.
But oh! “Tarantella alla Viestesana” comes on, and there’s this guitar, then the slack guitar, then the castanets, then this sound that sounds like a box of tambourines being pushed across the stage by a pack of ragazzi, then the singer comes in with this incredible phrasing that both accents and complements the rhythmic line. The really subtle ringing sound after the first verse is just the icing on the cake, as if distant church bells were sounding in celebration of the music.
I can’t help it; it’s just so exciting to listen to. At the start of “Montanara” the slack guitar chimes in and at first it sounds just atonal but then the vocals come in, perfectly in key with the guitar and it becomes so emotional and powerful. The halting rhythm of the guitars is in perfect emotional sync with the sadness of the lyrics. Even when the rhythm seems to catch up to the strum pattern and the guitarists appear to miss a beat in order to get back in line with the measure, it still all holds together as a song.