1. Un Dono (2:13)
2. Wizard Intro (3:03)
3. Madre Africa (7:54)
4. Questa Penombra E’ Lenta (6:57)
5. Chimera (4:23)
6. The Game (10:38)
a. Wizard of your Sky
d. Wizard of your Life
7. Cluster Bombs (6:43)
8. This Open Show (3:16)
9. C’Era Una Volta (2:59)
Paolo Siani – drums, vocals, keyboards, bass, guitars
Ricky Belloni – electric guitar (6)
Carlo Cantini – violin (6)
Guido Guglielminetti – bass (2, 4, 6)
Mauro Pagani / flute (3)
Alessandro Siani – electronics (1, 5)
Franco Testa – bass (5)
Roberto Tiranti – vocals (3, 6, 7)
Giorgio Usai – Hammond organ (6)
Joe Vescovi – Hammond organ (3)
Marco Zoccheddu – electric guitar (2, 3, 4, 7), piano (5, 7)
Gianni Alberti – sax (5)
Ottavia Bruno – vocals (5)
Giacomo Caiolo – acoustic guitar (4)
Nadia Enghèben – soprano (3)
Alberto “Artley” Buttarelli – vocals, flute (8)
Diego Gordi – piano (8)
Fabio Gordi – piano (8)
Daniele Pagani – piano (8)
Giuliano Papa – cello (8)
Vittorio Pedrali – vocal recitation (1)
In spite of his tenure as the drummer of Italian Seventies band Nuova Idea, Paolo Siani is certainly not a household name in the world of progressive rock – unless you count those dedicated fans of the scene who collect even the most obscure albums. Additionally, he shares the same name with an Italian-American artist of vastly different temperament, which can be misleading to those who are looking for more information. Although an excellent outfit, Nuova Idea did not achieve the fame of their fellow Genoese New Trolls (whom keyboardist Giorgio Usai and guitarist Ricky Belloni joined after the band’s demise) or Delirium, and disbanded after their third album, the highly-regarded Clowns, released in 1973. Subsequently Siani joined avant-garde outfit Opus Avantra for their second album, then beat band Equipe 84. Though he dropped off the musical radar for almost three decades, he worked as a producer and kept writing and recording his own music. It was the renewed interest in prog and the Italian Seventies scene that prompted Siani to resume his career as a musician – as well as a commendable humanitarian purpose, that is, raising funds on behalf of Genoa’s renowned Gaslini paediatric hospital.
Though Castles, Wings, Stories and Dreams, released by Genoa-based label Black Widow, is to all intents and purposes a solo project by Siani, it also sees a reunion of sorts of his mother band, as well as an impressive roster of guest musicians, including three of his former Nuova Idea bandmates: the above-mentioned Giorgio Usai and Ricky Belloni, plus guitarist Marco Zoccheddu, who had left the band to join Osage Tribe after Nuova Idea’s debut. Unlike many albums of this kind, however, it is remarkably tight from a compositional point of view. Moreover, despite Italian prog’s reputation for being somewhat overwrought, the album avoids that particular trap, keeping melody and clarity at the forefront while not neglecting the occasional flight of instrumental fancy.
Clocking in at under 50 minutes, Castles, Wings, Stories and Dreams is a decidedly song-oriented effort that manages to achieve a good balance between vocal and instrumental parts. The album opens with “Un Dono”, where an expressive male voice recites a brief, uplifting text by Mahatma Gandhi on a backdrop of sparse electronic keyboards. The following instrumental, “Wizard Intro”, blends symphonic suggestions à la Yes with hard rock touches, all infused with an unmistakable Italian flavour. “Chimera”, also instrumental, hints instead at a jazzy inspiration, with a loose structure made up of different solo spots (bass, sax and piano) over a train-like background rhythm provided by drums and keyboards. Siani’s voice can be heard on one track, “Questa Penombra E’ Lenta” (which is also the closest the album gets to a conventional ballad in the unique Italian style), assisted by the clear, melodic voice of Ottavia Bruno, and complemented by lovely acoustic guitar and an airy synth solo.
Three tracks feature the powerful yet clear voice of Roberto Tiranti, lead singer of power/progressive metal band Labyrinth (with a brief stint in New Trolls in the late Nineties). His gritty performance on “Cluster Bombs” – a hard-hitting, anti-war song powered by Hammond and military-style drumming that owes more than a little to Deep Purple or Uriah Heep – increases the song’s emotional impact. Tiranti shows his more melodic side on the 10-minute, 4-part epic “The Game”, a richly textured composition where all the instruments get their chance to shine without overwhelming each other, with Hammond flurries and wistful violin strains. Tiranti then reverts to a more authoritative, hard-rocking persona in the haunting “Madre Africa”, where the Deep Purple influences represented by Joe Vescovi (formerly of The Trip, a band that briefly included Ritchie Blackmore among his members) and his Hammond organ are tempered by Mauro Pagani’s flute, whose sound brings to mind Delirium or Osanna. The album is wrapped up by two short, low-key pieces, the melancholy, cello-driven “This Open Show” and the instrumental “C’Era Una Volta”, a Baroque-inspired number performed by Siani alone.
As can be expected, Castles, Wings, Stories and Dreams is not particularly innovative, nor does it pretend to be such. Like other fellow reviewers, I also have some reservations on the choice of mixing Italian and English lyrics. The supposed ‘international appeal’ of English vocals, in my opinion, dilutes that unique quality of Italian prog that is so often connected with the use of such a great vehicle for music as the Italian language. However, in spite of these drawbacks, the album is a solid effort, a fine slice of vintage Italian prog with a thoroughly 21st-century sound quality, and excellent performances all round from Siani and his guest musicians. The album should also appeal to fans of classic hard rock with progressive overtones. At the time of writing, Paolo Siani is planning a live show in October in his hometown of Genoa, which hopefully will not remain a one-off.