Italy’s bluesman and maverick pop star Zucchero knows how to put together an album: Work with legendary producer Don Was. Write with Elvis Costello and Bono. Collaborate with Mark Knopfler and top rock and blues players. Crank out forty frenzied songs, then whittle it down to the strongest fifteen.
With wit and flair, with grit learned from the blues and R&B--Zucchero has been a devoted student of this music since his start in the 1970s--the singer and songwriter builds on a life’s worth of playing, thinking, and troublemaking on Black Cat (Wrasse Records; US release: February 24, 2017). Black Cat’s first single, the Elvis Costello-penned and T Bone Burnett-produced “Turn The World Down,” opens with a traditional bluesy four-to-the-floor kick, quickly followed by a heavy chugging guitar and a strong drum beat.
Elvis Costello isn’t the only big name to appear on the album, Zucchero also teamed up with Bono for "Streets of Surrender (S.O.S.)” in tribute to the Bataclan Paris tragedy of November 2015. Legendary Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler also contributed to the record, playing on both "Streets of Surrender (S.O.S.)" and “Ci Si Arrende.” In a career spanning three decades, Zucchero has achieved international success, not least through his collaborations with artists including Eric Clapton, Miles Davis, Ray Charles, B.B King, Sting, Bono, Jeff Beck and Andrea Bocelli.
Best known Stateside for his single with Paul Young, “Senza una donna,” Zucchero, born Adelmo Fornaciari, may be one of the few artists to work with both Luciano Pavarotti and naughty filmmaker Tinto Brass. He’s toured with Miles Davis, rubbed shoulders with everyone from Mandela to Dan Ackroyd. His past and current collaborations read like a who’s who of rock, intelligent pop, jazz, blues, and classical: Eric Clapton, Ray Charles, B.B King, Sting, Jeff Beck and Andrea Bocelli. (His fun, freewheeling autobiography chronicling these adventures is due out in 2017.)
Zucchero wanted to return to some of his own roots when putting together Black Cat, to the devil-may-care days when then music was his first and only obsession. “When I started writing this album, I thought I wanted to be more liberated. When you do this job you always hope that your record is liked and that it can be a success. But I remembered Oro, Incenso & Birra [Zucchero’s 6th album]. In those days I was not interested in the radio charts or how much the album was liked, I was free and freewheeling because I had less to lose,” he muses. “At the time I could get up at 4 am with a phrase in my head, and start working on that phrase. With Black Cat, I wanted to go back to that state of mind as much as possible, trying to give a damn about the music that you hear about and moving in a more anarchic way.”
Yet the A-list glitter belies the raw and raucous heart of Zucchero’s most recent offerings. “Hey Lord” rattles with rough gospel vocals, suspended over a pulsing, buzzing bass. “Partigiano Reggiano” pounds with juke-joint piano and rock drive. “Terra Incognita” moves into more touching, ethereal territory, hinting at country ballads. Toughness and vulnerability, cleverness and spontaneity entwine on wildly catchy tracks.
Zucchero was inspired by America’s Afro-diasporic musics, a touchstone reflect in the album’s title. It sprang from the notion he discovered in some African-American communities: That the black cat, far from being an ill omen, was a symbol of good luck.
“I decided to give this name to the album because, more than the others, is a black album, with its roots in Afro-American music. The album is as free and wild as a cat,” reflects Zucchero. “ The sounds are rough and rotten, and anarchistic – cats are not as domesticated as dogs. I loved the sound of the words Black Cat and I felt it was in tune with the album.”
Zucchero will be touring the US for the second time in spring 2017.