Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Azzurro-The Voice (1996)


ORIGINAL POSTING DATE: August 9, 2016

There's the long line of talented, aspiring hopefuls in the internationally popular reality singing competition who are all hoping to be selected as 'The Voice', and then there's this Croatian singer named Azzurro I discovered from the Europop catalog who released an album called "The Voice". An interesting coincidence that I introduce this next post with that particular lead-in, as those hopefuls on that reality show are virtual mystery faces before they reveal themselves to the judges, much like this Azzurro guy is very much a mystery face to me. While I'm not an official talent judge by any means, I can say that I'm a pretty good judge when it comes to these obscure artists, predicting that the music contained on their limited releases will be as good as—if not better than—the more successful artists in the popular music mainstream. Those of you closest to me in my music circles who know my music-listening characteristics well should know what had attracted me to this mysterious Croatian voice in the first place. Yep, you guessed it—an album full of familiar cover songs! And you know that you gotta be cover-song crazy if if you even have an album of instrumental covers, as is the case with the "Dance Fantasia" album by the 2 MARX duo I featured a few days ago. No instrumentals this time around, although I will admit that the Europop production is one of the major selling points for Azzurro's ambitious renditions of songs that bring back so many fond memories of my yester-years! That other major selling point? Well, it's Azzurro's voice, of course, which I found to be strikingly soulful and an instant pleasure to my receptive ears! Still, it did take me a couple of listens to his upbeat interpretation of the timeless Lionel Richie soft rock radio staple, "Hello", before I got used to that strikingly soulful voice. This new Europop format works, and I like that his gets a bit of a hip kick with the ladies in the background chiming in with the 'ooooh, yes I love you baby' in later movements of the song. Perhaps Azzurro was a Lionel Richie idol, because he pays tribute to him right afterwards with a deliciously groovy upbeat remake of THE COMMODORES' "Lady". I noticed a more huskier catch to his vocals on that one, which is in contrast to the soothingly soulful charmer that he becomes when delivering the BEE GEES' dreamy classic, "How Deep Is Your Love?". Couldn't help but to jump down to the acapella version at the end, which is a real nice place to be entertained and charmed even further by his voice all alone. At that point, I'd already determined that his voice has both the versatility and range to sing cover songs from whatever genre he chose. So I knew that his take on the George Benson 80's smooth jazz classic, "Give Me The Night", would be right on point. The original chords and the familiar lyrics are all there, although I did miss hearing the echoed voices of the lady chiming 'all night, tonight' in the main chorus. Making up for that, though, is the unexpected yet refreshing rap break midway that throws in a welcomed twist to the music. "How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?" One of the greatest love ballads in the adult contemporary genre of all time is always a nice addition to any covers album, and I love hearing different versions of it. While I still adore the Laura Branigan original and the Michael Bolton cover the most, I instantly fell in love with this Azzurro cover, his amazing soaring voice rising above the slow groove, the deep bass and the elegant keyboard melody overlaying the beat in the instrumental breaks. A nice accent to include the backup vocalists in the final movement, which is different, as other versions I've heard have always been strictly solo. "I'll Be There" is another timeless classic that Azzurro revitalizes with his fresh upbeat Europop style. So wonderful to hear his soaring vocals here again, prompting me to believe he would've made an excellent operatic pop singer. Had wondered if it would be performed as a duet, as I hadn't seen any names of guest singers on the CD's back cover artwork, but turns out that a gritty uncredited female vocalist joins in with him after all. As I did after listening to "How Deep Is Your Love?", I immediately went to the 'Acapella Bass & Drum Version' so that I could bask in his soulfulness without the extra background production. George Michael's "Careless Whisper" is a very nice selection for a singer like Azzurro to cover—these lush, day-dreamy, romantic tunes that whisk your mind to some faraway place. The familiar jazzy accompaniment is gone in favor if a light, deep groove and a soft bell accompaniment that really chills the music senses. "I Wanna Know What Love Is": The FOREIGNER soft rock radio classic that receives endless airplay on the radio just might begin receiving endless airplay on my playlist of favorites with Azzurro at the mic. Faster is the Europop tempo in contrast to the slower movement of the 80's original, but the song still grew on me; I only regret that it's so short! Might've even been nice to have both this Europop remake and a ballad version. I haven't heard too much of THE BEATLES' classic "Yesterday", but I may have to go back to 'yesterday' to tune in to their original, having become fond of this Azzurro remake. I noted here that his voice is much deeper, quite refined and all majestic, which contrasts beautifully with the soft piano and warming orchestral backing; it puts the song close to that operatic pop style I mentioned that I thought he'd be great for. As for the Croatian language tracks, I got my latest cultural music exposure—and graced new music horizons while I was at it—by hearing songs being performed in Croatian for the very first time. The majestic force in him rises to the occasion again on the starry ballad entitled "Sve Je Nocas Protiv Nas" (performed as duet with a lady who's soaring voice makes her like a true siren, especially in the closing movements), "Ljubav Za Tebe", and "Cvijet U Pustinji" (so strong and powerful Azzurro is here, which got me motivated to want to look up all of these Croatian song titles and find out what their English translations are). And if none of those majestic performances move you, then perhaps the one called "Nemam Prava" will stir something up inside of you, as it certainly did for me! Those collective ethnic voices with Azzurro leading the way turns this lively, upbeat hymn into quite the spiritually uplifting piece, even if I don't understand not a single word:

1. Hello
2. Lady
3. How Deep Is Your Love?
4. Give Me The Night
5. How Am I Supposed To Live Without You?
6. I'll Be There
7. Careless Whisper
8. Yesterday
9. I Wanna Know What Love Is
10. Sve Je Nocas Protiv Nas (duet sa Zoricom Kondzom)
11. Ljubav Za Tebe
12. Zima
13. Nemam Prava
14. Cvijet U Pustinji
15. I'll Be There (Acapella Bass & Drum Version)
16. How Deep Is Your Love (Azzurro Acapella Version)

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