Francesco De Gregori has repackaged his work so often, across a myriad of live and compilation releases, that a project that otherwise would be quite interesting, such as Viva Voce, becomes immediately suspect. This time around, the great Roman songwriter has handpicked 28 of his compositions and recorded new studio versions that reflect the ways in which he has been toying around with his material over the years. A curious and often surprisingly engaging two-CD collection, Viva Voce's greatest asset is its indiscriminate nature. De Gregori has chosen equally from his 1970s classics and his most recent output, including some of his biggest hits and missing even bigger ones ("Generale," "Buonanotte Fiorellino," "Viva l'Italia," and "Titanic" but no "Rimmel" or "Buffalo Bill"), as well as selecting several relatively obscure songs ("Atlantide," "Battere e Levare," "Finestre Rotte"). Likewise, the new arrangements range from fairly similar to the original versions ("Renoir") to fairly different ("La Leva Calcistica della Classe '68" switches piano for guitar, for instance), although each song remains immediately recognizable. Each disc opens with a surprise, the first with a reworking of 1973's "Alice" improvised in the studio with Luciano Ligabue, inevitably chosen as the first single, and the second with an Italian version of Leonard Cohen's "The Future," the only song in this collection De Gregori had not previously recorded. For anyone familiar with De Gregori, Viva Voce offers no major revelations, but the tasteful new coat of paint that replaces the iconic and yet often sonically dated original arrangements only stresses how consistently brilliant his songs always have been. The fact that his latest studio offerings (four albums between 2005 and 2012) were all exceedingly fine works makes it all the more depressing that he should feel constantly compelled to recycle his classics, as if acknowledging that is all his fans want to hear from him. In short, Viva Voce is a beautifully realized project, albeit one irrevocably hampered by the huge amount of similar Francesco De Gregori releases. ~ Mariano Prunes
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