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On Second Listen: Guano Padano – Guano Padano

on December 11, 2010, 8:00am

The Western film genre was limping along at a listless and predictable pace at the end of the 1950s. The Golden Age of Hollywood was coming to a close, and audiences were tired of the studio-driven, mindless drivel that was churned out like a movie assembly line. Enter famed Italian director Sergio Leone and his own take on the genre. Suddenly, Westerns featured morally ambiguous characters, raw production values and plot lines that defied the usual straightforward convention. The “Spaghetti Western” was born and gave the industry the shot of whiskey it desperately needed.

If “Spaghetti Western Rock” ever becomes a recognized musical genre, then Guano Padano will have pioneered it in much the same way. The mostly instrumental band has crafted not only a rich and rewarding self-titled album, but practically invented a whole new style of music reminiscent of dusty trails, searing sunlight, and swinging saloon doors.

This is all made more authentic by the fact that trio is also from Italy. But that’s not to say Guano Padano is entirely focused on writing a soundtrack to a Leone-esque film; there’s a huge range of influences running through this record. Guitarist Alessandro “Asso” Stefana, double bassist Danilo Gallo, and drummer Zeno de Rossi have all brought a lot to the table. Not only do they have their hands in a multitude of different instruments here (stylophone, stand-up piano, and glockenspiel are but a few that come to mind), but they’ve mixed in country, surf music, folk, rock, classical, and experimental jazz to boot.

The result is a complex, lush and endlessly atmospheric ride through the various musical landscapes. They even have Alessandro Alessandroni appearing on the album, “the whistler” in the legendary composer Ennio Moricone’s soundtracks (no surprise that he did the music to Leone’s films). It gives the journey a kick of authenticity and adds to the aura of loneliness that wafts over many of the tracks.

Guano Padano starts off with the self-titled track, a dreamy surf rock riff that lulls you into 60’s California haze until it bursts with a sporadic bass clarinet solo, just enough jazz and unpredictability to keep you on your toes. “A Country Concept” has a slow build of waning strings and the unmistakable twang of a lap steel guitar while the build of the drums approaches like a distant train until you’re rocking on board and chugging seamlessly along to another dry, desolate destination. The aptly-named “El Divino” is a gorgeous embrace of swooning strings and Alessandroni’s crystal-clear whistle, while “Epiphany” will instantly conjure up images of a scraggy-faced outlaw riding into town for one last drink

“Bull Buster” is a real, er, ball buster. It features quirky electronic noises that are reminiscent of vintage arcade machines (or perhaps it’s just the mechanical bull ride warming up) along with some toe-tapping banjo-strumming and some jiving hand claps (“can your grandfather do this?”). The lone cover on this album is Hank Williams’ “Ramblin’ Man”, sung here by Italian Bobby Solo, whose timeless voice wraps it in one slinky swing. “Jack Frost” evokes the chilly fingers of winter in its hints of solitude; it’s the kind of song that will make your mind wander. The surf rock appears again with the tropical guitar riff of “Del Rey”, but the rise and fall of the melodies and the sad zip of the strings conjure feelings of both beauty and dismay, like heartbreak on a Hawaiian beach.

Rounding out the album we have “Danny Boy”, a song that is almost two in one. It has the “rain falling on the windowpane” piano notes that melt into a haunting string serenade before switching into a folky beat and Spanish-sounding horn solo and then trickling back again . And finally “Tromp Valley” which should be required listening for any Johnny Cash or western genre fan. It closes everything out on such a happy, uptempo finger-picking vibe and lets the listener walk away from the album with a bit of spring in their boots.

This is Guano Padano’s first album and a shockingly good one at that. It even caught the eye of Calexico’s Joey Burns. But don’t just take our word for it; if you’re in the mood for something a little different – with a touch of innovation and class – you can’t go wrong by putting Guano Padano into your steady rotation.

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