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Italian singer Zucchero returns to his "roots" on new album

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Tuesday, October 18, 2011

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Adelmo Fornaciari — the Italian singer and songwriter better known as Zucchero — had a modest mission when he set out to make his latest album, “Chocabeck.”

“My goal was to make an album that people could listen to,” he says.

And people, in abundance, have certainly been listening to Zucchero (which means “sugar” in Italian) for the past 30-plus years.

Though he’s a far bigger name internationally than he is in the U.S., the 56-year-old musician from the village of Reggio Emilia, has sold more than 40 million records and won two World Music Awards.

His albums have featured guests such as Eric Clapton, Sting, Jeff Beck, Luciano Pavarotti, the late Clarence Clemons from Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band and others. Elvis Costello, Bono and Iggy Pop have written English lyrics for him over the years, with the latter two contributing to “Chocabeck,” which came out Oct. 4 in North America.

Sting calls Zucchero “the Italian voice for everyone in the world,” while Don Was — the Grammy Award-winning Detroit native who co-produced “Chocabeck” and also produced its 2006 predecessor, “Fly” — has dubbed him “the Italian Bruce Springsteen ... a great songwriter, a great singer, very unique and individualistic.”

Zucchero appreciates the plaudits, but he still goes back to the very simple purpose he feels in writing and recording. And on “Chocabeck” he mines a theme that’s deeply personal and emotionally evocative.

“The album, for me, is a return to my roots. It comes from inside my soul,” explains Zucchero, who conceived “Chocabeck” as a song cycle about “a typical Sunday” in the life of a small, traditional village — one not unlike the one he grew up in but also, he hopes, an environment that anyone can relate to. “It’s like a musical picture of memories, memories that we all have regardless of where we come from.

“I’ve traveled around the world for many years, and it is now more important than ever for me to reconnect with the sights and sounds and feelings of life in a village community. The houses are made of stone, the fields are full of flowers and maize, and you can hear the hypnotic sound of the river running close by.

“I like to live a simple life with my family, observing the old traditions. And this is what my music is truly all about. It comes from inside my soul.”

To accomplish that, however, Zucchero enlisted a couple of big city producers — Was and Brendan O’Brien, who’s worked with Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Pearl Jam.

“They are great, (and) completely different,” Zucchero says. “Don ... comes from more of an R&B direction, while Brendan is more rock. I loved working with them both they made it easy for me, I think because they are both true musicians they are open to suggestions and understand what I want to achieve — sometimes without me even saying anything.

“You know, often when you work so closely with people a natural connection develops and for me that happened here with Don and Brendan. Plus they are fun to work with. It is less about modern technology with studio effects and more about music and songs in their organic form.”

Was hooked Zucchero up with a couple of notable collaborators for “Chocabeck.” He suggested fellow Michiganian Pop to help write the songs “Spirit Together” and “Too Late” (aka “Alla Fine”), the latter of which is “a song for anyone who misses someone who is not there” and is dedicated to a friend of Zucchero’s who died from cancer.

“Iggy was a surprising choice to many people,” Zucchero acknowledges, “an amazing performer — pure animal, but he is also very gentle, a poet. Don Was is an old friend of Iggy’s, so Don suggested him and it was an honor for me that he wanted to write the lyrics for the two songs.”

Was also brought in Beach Boys legend Brian Wilson to sing on the “Chocabeck” title track.

“I didn’t know Brian Wilson — of course I knew him musically, but not personally, and I never dreamt I would work with him,” Zucchero says. “Don is a friend of (Wilson’s) and he was recording in the studio next to us in Los Angeles.

“When Don and I listened to the song ‘Chocabeck,’ Don suggested some vocal harmonies would be good with Brian, so he called him in with us. Brian loved the song and after a few hours the song was finished. It was amazing how fast he put everything together, the different harmonies. The man is a legend and I am grateful for his generosity of spirit to be a part of my music.”

Bono, meanwhile, was a no-brainer, having written lyrics for previous Zucchero songs such as “Blue” and “Miserere” and, this time out, penned the words for “Someone Else’s Tears.”

“I have been friends with Bono for a very long time,” Zucchero notes. “Bono doesn’t speak Italian at all, but he always understands what my music is saying. So when I wrote the music for ‘Someone Else’s Tears,’ he almost instinctively wrote the words that the music was calling for — about life in the country, making wine, enjoying the simple things.”

“Chocabeck” also features lyrical contributions by Tears For Fears’ Roland Orzabal and Chaz Jankel and Derek Hussey of the Blockheads, along with string arrangements by Coldplay collaborator Davide Rossi. The album is loaded with top-shelf American musicians, but he does not consider it to be an “American” album.

“I don’t think I approached it like that,” Zucchero says. “I have always had ... an affinity with American music as I grew up listening to the blues, R&B, soul. This music has always inspired me, and I have recorded albums in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New Orleans.

“But no, this really is a return to my roots ... in Italy, in the village where I grew up.”

Zucchero performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 19, at Andiamo Celebrity Showroom, 7096 E. 14 Mile Road, Warren. Tickets are $25-$65. Call 586-268-3200 or visit www.andiamoshowroom.com.

Web Site: www.andiamoshowroom.com

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