Francesco De Gregori's Per Brevita' Chiamato Artista opens with its title track, a fairly hermetic mixture between autobiography and manifesto about the times when he was an unknown, struggling songwriter. In fact, this brief, mostly taciturn album is in many ways an unexpected return to the acoustic roots and cryptic lyrics of De Gregori's first two releases, 1973's Alice Non Lo Sa and 1974's De Gregori, before 1975's Rimmel turned him into a pop superstar. As the first song -clearly the album's standard bearer -- declares, and the rest of the tracks set to demonstrate, time and success have not altered De Gregori's fundamental ideas on art. From this perspective, Per Brevita' Chiamato Artista is actually quite a daring, stubborn album that ostensibly ignores any market concerns. There are neither love songs nor topical songs of an immediately recognizable argument or character, the two kinds of songs De Gregori has built his massive popularity on. Fans who have come to love De Gregori based only on the plethora of greatest-hits compilations or live albums would probably not be able to make head nor tails of Per Brevita' Chiamato Artista. On the other hand, this is an album that will appeal to De Gregori's hardcore fans, those eager to read between the lines, trace parallels to previous songs, and agonize about the meaning of every sentence -- much in the way Bob Dylan's acolytes do. The comparison with Dylan is never casual; he has always been De Gregori's greatest influence. Furthermore, it is an influence that seems to grow with the years, rather than diminish -- notably after the Roman songwriter covered "If You See Her Say Hello" in 1997 for La Valigia dell'Attore. If the young De Gregori was dazzled by the surrealistic imagery of Blonde on Blonde or the emotional blowout of Blood on the Tracks, now at 57 he seems to be particularly attentive (and impressed) to the way Dylan is coping with age in Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Modern Times -- in fact, the boogie of "Finestre Rotte" sounds uncannily like a lost Italian outtake from Love and Theft. In addition, the grand string finale "L'infinito," is thematically akin to Dylan's elegiac trilogy -- even if musically apart. A tender reflection on his own mortality, "L'infinito" is clearly the album's other key track, together with "Per Brevita Chiamato Artista." These two songs quite deliberately bookend a collection that, if truth be told, is often more interesting that great. There are a few beautiful moments, such as the ethereal "Volavola," or the curiosity of an Italian cover of Tom Russell's "The Angel of Lyon," but too much of the material sounds uncomfortably close to songs already present on De Gregori's last two albums, Pezzi and Calypsos, yet not as well defined. An intriguing, if imperfect, release by a major figure who fortunately still has plenty to say. ~ Mariano Prunes
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