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Stiv Cantarelli and the Silent Strangers
Black Music/White Music
CD on Stovepony
Cat No: WCMF12 , Stk Ref 79761

Released on: 02 February 2013

Magazine Review
Sometimes you get a CD in your hands that you just know would look (and no doubt sound) so much better if it was also issued on vinyl. At a perfect nine tracks, Stiv Cantarelli follows up his 2011 solo debut, ‘Innerstate’ with ‘Black Music / White Music’ which is just screaming out for a vinyl issue. Maybe one exists but despite a little digging it would appear that the album is only being released on CD and download.

The sepia tones of the CD inlay images are amusing, thought-provoking and mysterious and immediately, even before you’ve heard a note of the music contained within, you know, you just know, that this album is going to be not only different from anything else you’ve heard recently but, at the very least, an exciting musical journey.

The music lives up to the expectations that the sleeve promised. Opening the album with ‘The Boy’s Draw On the Steamed Window’ was an inspired and smart move. With just acoustic guitar and Cantarelli’s gravel-washed vocals, you are immediately drawn in. A melody that can be described as pretty frames Cantarelli’s aching lyrics, and at just under a perfect two minutes the song achieves what all great songs should do; it leaves you wanting more of the same.

Cantarelli has been around long enough now to know what makes a good song great. Signing to MoodFood Records in 1999 with his band Satellite Inn to fill the gap left by the departure of Ryan Adams band Whiskeytown who had just then moved on to pastures new, the band's rootsy debut ‘Cold Morning Songs’ was well received, not just by those who saw Satellite Inn live but from other musicians; Richmond Fontaine later backed Cantarelli on ‘Innerstate’.

Recording this latest bunch of songs in an abandoned church in the middle of Tuscany’s Romagna hills (a homecoming for Cantarelli) was another inspired move. Hitching up with Antonio Perugini, whose drum skills shine on many of these songs, and with Fabrizio Gramellini providing solid bass runs, the duo are far from The Silent Strangers their name would suggest, and it would appear that Cantarelli has found the perfect musicians to add the required texture and shades to some of his songs.

The recordings ended up in a studio in Holland belonging to Petrushka Morsink (Willard Grant Conspiracy, Transmissionary Six, Cords) who then added, according to the label, "space guitar, ethereal vocals and harmonica from hell" which has certainly helped turn what were no doubt originally good songs into great ones. Even with the extra contribution from Morsink none of the rawness is lost or glossed over.

‘Cornerstone Blues’, for example is, as its name would suggest, a raw blues, but with one of the most appealing, infectious tunes ever to grace this type of song. With some of Cantarelli’s less obscure lyrics, “I was there full of cockiness and bad methadone/I found the right path to the cornerstone”, the song, coming in at the halfway point in the album, is the perfect example of what makes ‘Black Music / White Music’ so appealing.

That Cantarelli and company can go from that song straight into ‘Under the Red Star’ where again Cantarelli shows a more tender, emotional side to his vocals in the opening verse proves that this band is no one trick pony. At the end of each heartfelt verse a musical melee breaks out which just feels so right before the band regain composure and Cantarelli’s emotional vocals take hold again. This would have turned into a disjointed mess of sound in lesser hands, but it confirms the talent of all involved. It’s an absolute killer of a song.

While the acoustic, more thoughtful songs like the opener and ‘Hundred Thousand Stones’ (with ghostly backing vocals adding to an already eerie song, the effect is chilling) take no time at all to register, some of the songs that initially sound like stripped-to-the-bones swamp blues (but actually repeated plays reveal a host of sounds weaving in and out) do take a few plays to really shine. Make that a couple of plays because the second time you play this album you’ll be hooked.

A very impressive collection of songs that while based in the blues idiom is actually so much more than that. Now bring on that vinyl release.

Malcolm Carter


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