I must confess that I wrote that headline to get readers' attention but this record is most clearly not all about Mike Watt, excellent musician that he is.
No, La Busta Gialia, out January 29 on Clenched Wrench, is most decidedly the work of a group of musicians, not just that guy from The Minutemen.
Made up of bassist Mike Watt, guitarist Stefano Pilia, and drummer Andrea Belfi, Il Sogno Marinaio is a sort of power-trio with assorted additional musicians thrown in. The record covers territory that I'd be hard pressed to describe -- jazz? prog? hard rock?
From the snarl of "The Tiger Princess" to the steel drum-hitting, cymbal-crashing joy of "Funanori Jig", the record is just a joy to listen to.
At this point, I feel like maybe I should repost what drummer Andrea Belfi has written about these tracks:
Il Sogno del Marinaio's La Busta Gialla has been created in a two weeks' journey through the Italian landscape: four days of rehearsing, six shows, two days of recordings.
Each song tells a story...the whole album has a narrative quality that is clearly perceivable from the very beginning.
"Zoom" is an eight-minute-long trip, that explores many different paths. Cinema pour L'Oreille I would say.
"Partisan Song" is dedicated to a bronze monument representing two partisans standing proud in the center of a big intersection in Bologna.
"The Tiger Princess" is a sort of fairy tale in which all instruments play many different patterns, each one different from the previous one.
"Funanori Jig" sounds like a long trip by boat from the Mediterranean sea to the Caribbeans.
"Il Guardiano Del Faro" is the story of a shipwreck.
"Joyfuzz" is an imaginative portrait of a real person using the image of an electric guitar effect pedal.
"Messed-Up Machine" is a sort of broken engine, that turns on and off, and at the end, after a few tries, finally works.
In "Punkinhed Ahoy!" the New Orleans funk beat is mixed with a traditional Italian longshoreman choir from Genoa. A positive ending for the great first Il Sogno del Marinaio experience!
Drummer Belfi has done a great job at hinting at the highs and complexities of these recordings. His work, along with the exceptional playing of Stefano, goes a long way towards upstaging Mike Watt's work here, no mean feat given that guy's track record.
On "Joyfuzz", there are a few moments where the guitar-work recalls Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, and Robert Fripp -- in the space of a few moments! -- and the drums echo patterns laid down by Ginger Baker in the past and you feel like a lucky listener.
For a non-musician such as myself, it's hard to write about this sort of music. Still, I can hear something happening, connections being made and explored by the musicians, and in that sense, it's like a great jazz record.
If there are sections here that recall fusion, there are just as many that recall 1970s prog records (though stretched out and expanded beyond their space-y roots). That's not to label this album but, rather, to go to some of the only touchstones that would seem to help me describe La Busta Gialia by Il Sogno Marinaio.
La Busta Gialia will be released on January 29.
Check out the Clenched Wrench website for more details.
Check out this page on Mike Watt's site for more details on this specific project.
Here's a clip of Il Sogno Marinaio in action.