Fabrizio Poggi & Chicken Mambo

Fabrizio Poggi & Chicken Mambo
Spirit & Freedom

USR

By Art Tipaldi
October 2010

Europeans love the blues. They revere its uniquely American origins and honor its practitioners. But they also respect the spirituals and gospel music that is so closely intertwined with the blues. To that end, Italian Fabrizio Poggi and his band, Chicken Mambo, have embarked on a far-reaching project, to record 16 songs with spiritual roots enlisting a variety of noted American friends. Look no further then the opening track, “I’m On My Way (To Freedom Land),” where Poggi calls upon the dark harmonies of the Blind Boys of Alabama. Testifyin’ moans, Charlie Musselwhite’s redemptive tone, Poggi’s calls, and Jimmy Carter’s answers immediately remind of the hope this music gave to America’s disenfranchised.

Guy Davis and Augie Meyers join Mambo Chicken for “Stayed On Freedom,” another anthem of promise. Later, Davis and Meyers join for a reprise of the Civil Rights anthem, “Glory Glory.” As Poggi and Davis trade acoustic harmonica riffs, Meyers’ accordion, Gianfranco Scala’s mandolin, and the enormous Texas Hill country Gospel Mass Choir (14 strong) center this grand sing-along in a time when families and friends sat together in the evening and created their acoustic entertainment.

Few spirituals cut as deep as “I Shall Not Be Moved.” Born in the days of slavery, the song took on new meaning in the 20th century’s struggles for equality. That importance is not lost on Poggi and his band. Poggi also honors America’s Dust Bowl troubadour with Woody Guthrie’s poem, “My Peace” narrated by his daughter Nora, seamlessly followed by Guthrie’s “Jesus Christ.”

With that quiet instrumentation, Poggi and Mambo Chicken can at times remind listeners of the early recordings of the Band. To that end, their gentle reading of “I Shall Be Released” is performed with heavy nods to Big Pink. True to his love of the Band, Poggi adds Garth Hudson’s Hammond organ to Eric Bibb’s delivery of Rev. Gary Davis’ “I Heard The Angels Singing.”

Other guests include Flaco Jimenez whose Tex Mex accordion joins Poggi on his cover of Willy DeVille’s “Heaven Stood Still,” and Billy Joe Shaver sings his own “Live Forever,” with the gentle acoustic sway of dobro, mandolin, acoustic guitars, and harmonica. Poggi’s shows his own talent in these spiritual waters on his original, deep spirited “Jesus Called Me To Heaven,” a tribute to Italian blues guitarist Alessandro Rava, who before he died, turned Poggi on to the finest pre-war country blues.

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