Saturday, June 8, 2013
12 pm (edt)
Italian flatpicking guitar master Beppe Gambetta will stop by WTJU Saturday, June 8 (originally scheduled for June 7), for a visit. The previous evening Beppe will be performing at a house concert in downtown Charlottesville. He is currently touring the US with his latest release, The American Album.
If this American Album is your introduction to Beppe Gambetta, you’re about to learn why musicians around the world count him among today’s absolute best acoustic guitarists.
One ingredient is technical skill and virtuosity. Like only a few of the other great players, Beppe’s guitar is often recognizable whether the tune is unbelievably fast or hauntingly slow. Another is his deep feeling and respect for the traditions of folk music - not just the tunes and songs themselves, but also the lives of the people who made them and the role of music in fostering and shaping cross-cultural communication and community.
But amazing technique and a rich understanding of the past would not have been sufficient to elevate Beppe to the top tier of world musicians. What he also brings is something magical and harder to describe. It is a unique vision and fearless creativity through which he explores and evolves new layers of musical territory and technique without ever losing a firm footing in his roots.
You hear it on this album from the opening track - a magnificent new piece Beppe composed that could be the soundtrack for a wonderful movie - to the last which is the reimagining of a tune we all know that was written 75 years ago by a Louisiana Governor.
In between, there is a new interpretation of an Earl Scruggs tune many music fans including Beppe first heard on the Will The Circle Be Unbroken album in the 1970s, and also a little-known and beautiful melody by Norman Blake. There are medleys honoring the Delmore Brothers and and the influential bluegrass guitarists Charlie Waller, Don Reno and George Shuffler. There is an old-timey song rescued from obscurity and a Canadian fiddle tune brought perhaps for the first time to the guitar. And there is more including another of Beppe’s new compositions – this one inspired by a visiting chipmunk who was apparently an Olympic sprinter in training.
As you listen, you may notice yet another important tradition at play here – that of the concept album. While each song and tune is clearly magnificent and quite capable of dazzling on its own, the whole is somehow even more than the sum of its parts.
I should mention, I suppose, that Beppe’s roots are not entirely American. Having been born and raised in Genoa, which remains his home for part of each year, Italian traditions also infuse his work. The poetry and spice they add to this aptly-named American Album may be more subtle than on his others, but they are a welcome reminder that great music truly is a universal language ready to enrich our lives.
John Weingart, host for more than 33 1/3 years of Music You Can’t Hear On The Radio on WPRB-FM and WPRB.COM in Princeton, New Jersey, is also Associate Director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.