Schipa Jr. Dylaniato, 1988

After listening to this album just once, I couldn’t not hear it as a semi-comic parody that translated Dylan into Italo showground-pop. Then I translated the sleeve notes by Fernando Pivano and found an earnest description of the arduous difficulties Tito Schipa Jr. faced when translating “the monsyllabic and bi-syllable Americans” because of the length of Italian words. Nonetheless, the creative Schipa Jr. was able to find various solutions such as creating his own internal rhymes and also replacing some of Dylan’s imagery, which would make no sense in Italian, with symbols and allusions particular to the Italian experience. Elsewhere it was “a technical impossibility” to observe the rhymes and meter of the original. Much of my specific understanding of this translation process was lost in translation however. The blurb ends with the following sentence, poorly translated by Google: “To many of us comforting that these verses these images, these hopes are now sung in Italian by young people immersed in doubts and issues other than those that inspired Dylan to their age.” The point being that at least young Italians not well versed in English can more easily dig Dylan’s lyrics thanks to Schipa’s efforts. After listening to this album once, I imagine most young Italians being put off Dylan for life.

Who is Schipa Jr.? Firstly Tito Schipa Jr. is the son of the great Italian tenor Tito Schipa, hence the “junior” suffix. In fact, 20 years before he released Dylaniato, in 1967 Schipa Jr. made his professional debut as a singer-piano player with a musical based on Bob Dylan songs, called Then An Alley. And in 1980, 37 years ahead of Dylan’s Triplicate, he released the first triple album ever produced in Italy. Even better, by 1990 he had translated the complete works of Bob Dylan and Jim Morrison for an Italian publisher. Cool guy, obviously dedicated to Dylan. If only he had recorded this album in any other era than the 80s, it might not have sounded half as horrible as it does.

Centoquindicesimo Sogno Di Bob Dylan (Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream)… bursts straight into the song with a piano glissando, a thumping disco beat, whistling, a squiggly Italian vocal, some weird backing vocal effects in gruff and wacky voices, lots of piano, high energy, and bounce-shiny. In other words, it’s awful. It sounds like a comedy record, but that’s only because I don’t understand Italian, and with all the bizarre surround-sound effects and Italian accent, it’s hard to take it seriously. It’s obviously meant to be fun, in keeping with the lyrical content of this song, a surrealist take on the founding of America. It’s not immediately obvious that it’s a Dylan song—I can only faintly hear it. It’s a weird one to cover, and I do think Mr. Schipa is the first artist to try. There’s some big awful synth breakdowns in the middle of the song. One assumes then that Schipa’s goal is to highlight the song’s lyrical humour, but it sounds a bit tinny, full of horrible 80s touches, clichés, electronic pad drums, squealing electric guitar solos, and it’s long, oh man it’s long. Would have been better to end the record with this rather than begin it. Nonetheless, Schipa does a fine job fitting his translated lyrics into this new mould. I quite like all the background shout-outs. I just hate the 80s affectations and flourishes. This is the song to go with that ugly multi-coloured cartoon sleeve.

Ti Voglio (I Want You)… let’s keep the bounce going shall we? Let’s turn “I Want You” into a perfect three-minute radio pop ditty to be heard blaring from beachside cafes on hot summer days along the coast of Capri. Again, we’ve got an indulgence in delicate keyboard effects. This is possibly the worst cover version of this song I’ve heard yet. Tacky tones throughout.

Tu Col Tamburino (Mr. Tambourine Man)… starts off sounding like Guns & Roses or something. That immediately stops and we get Schipa in high sensitive tone, delicate steel-string acoustic strumming, and a very recognizable “Tambourine Man.” It seems to be played a little too quickly, thus prettifying it, and robbing it entirely of that half-world sleepiness of the original, the dreamscape of the lyrics that fit the melody so perfectly. This is tuneful, but essentially worthless and deeply uncool. One only need to look up a picture of Tito Schipa Jr. and make a sniggery judgment about his tight curly locks and big porn-stache to see how ridiculous he looks. Ergh.

Appartiene A Me (She Belongs To Me)… by far the best song on the album, played in a bent-note fingerpickin’ wires-tangled Delta blues way. Great guitar work, and none of those keyboard flourishes from earlier. Pure blues, though the string-tone is a bit too clean. The singing is delicate and light. My only gripe would be that the melody is slightly lost given that Schipa has taken it deeper into blues territory. A thumping beat starts up for a few beats. If he’d played the whole album in this style, this serious, reverent blues style, it would have worked. It would have been vastly superior. This is listenable. I could have got hooked on it. The beat is back and threatening to get louder and ruder, but it’s timed nicely with the guitar rhythm and the song’s over before anything too bombastic happens.

Lungo I Merli Di Vedetta (All Along The Watchtower)… this is where the album gets truly awful. Every single tone on this song is an eighties cliché. Think John Farnham, Go West and Pseudo Echo. Ugh. There’s some impressively wild guitar soloing, but it’s got a way too ‘nice’ tone to it. The drums are full of echo, the lyrics are whisper-sung. There’s a few dynamic shifts, but basically, the song is barely recognisable. I don’t know what he’s trying to do here. The wonderful mystique and ominous darkness of the original are somehow taken and turned into a plastic candyland. The watchtower in this song is made of Lego. It’s so eighties synth-fake horrid you could apply some rouge and use it on an infomercial promoting cosmetics for men.

Amore Via Zero / Illimitato (Love Minus Zero / No Limit)… at last a song where the tune hasn’t been stripped away into sound effects, this is one of the better ones here, and a quick read-over of the lyrics reminds me what a great song this is. Sound-wise, we’re still ensconced in 80s clichés, with a …okay, I don’t know, a keyboard-string symphony. It’s all rather sappy, glissando-drenched, clean, sparkling and orchestrated. It just gets worse and worse towards the end. Garbage

Ragazza Del Nord (Girl From The North Country)… a little better, not by much, we’ve got some airy synth-tones, nice guitar, a dreamy atmosphere to go with the tune, yet still tacky by anyone’s measure. Tasteless, completely out of touch with the kids, and what serious Dylan fans in Italy, or younger generation hipsters are going to accept this as edgy? It’s like an ironic lament. Pleasant tune, that’s about the only good thing I can say about it.

Signori Della Guerra (Masters Of War)… this harks back to the Swede, Dan Tillberg’s cover, whose version of this, quite apart from the rest of his truly ghastly album, was interesting, mechanical, industrial and dark. This is like that, only, ha, a sunny version, like he wanted to go all dark and deep and spacious, but his keyboard pre-sets wouldn’t let him, because the intervening six years of eighties pop between Tillberg’s effort and Schipa’s, ensured that keyboards were only programmed with the clichés of the era. This is not even recognisable as Dylan’s “Masters of War.” It’s a synth-soft ice-cream van version. Awful.

Wow, that was even worse than I thought it would be after playing the album about five times recently. I think what had happened was that my ears just switched it off, such that when I came to sit down and really listen, all I heard was something so fake as to be self-silencing, self-defeating. No, it’s not the worst Dylan covers album. That accolade goes to EMI’s Strings For PleasureBut it comes a close second. I didn’t feel a thing listening to this. The only redeeming track was “She Belongs To Me.” Maybe Dylan shouldn’t be translated.

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About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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