When renowned producer Brian Burton a.k.a. Dangermouse and Italian composer Daniele Luppi met in 2004, the possibility of collaborating was always on the cards: ‘We really hung out like friends and exchanged a bunch of records and ideas […] I guess we appreciated each other artistically’, claimed Luppi. In 2006 Burton called Luppi into the studio to help him arrange Gnarls Barkley debut ‘St. Elsewhere’, and it was clear once in the studio that the conducive, creative chemistry between them meant that working together was a certainty. Inspired by the Italian soundtracks of the 60’s and 70’s, most notably the works of Ennio Morricone, they set off on a five year project, snatching time in the studio when they could. They assembled the original musicians from the aforementioned soundtracks, whilst also recruiting eager youngbloods Jack White and Norah Jones along the way to ‘star’ in the plot as hero and heroine respectively. The end product ‘Rome’ is an international labour of love, presenting the sound of secret trysts, broken dreams and aspirations of entangled lives on the winding streets of Rome.
By using the original musicians from the old Morricone soundtracks gives the music an archival feel, like the music is seeping its way out of a forgotten film reel can left in a dusty store room in Rome. Everything is in vintage black and white and as with those old black and white films the only colour to be had is in the soundscapes blotted onto that celluloid canvas. The nasally guitar slinks in and out like a cat, poking its head around the odd corner, while the military drums keep a restrained urgency present in the search for something on these sun baked streets. Meanwhile, the strings, organs and sublime vocal harmonies of the reunited Cantori Moderni swirl around like an unanticipated breeze that coaxes you down one street, then another.The experienced, septuagenarian musicians allow you drift away in an atmosphere that would, for the most part, be found absent if ‘Rome’ were recorded with contemporary session musicians. Burton and Luppi knew that if they were going to do this project then they were going to have to go the whole way, because there is a sense of authenticity and a breath of life present here that simply cannot be bought.
The album is divvied up pretty equally between tracks starring Jack White, tracks starring Norah Jones, interludes and instrumentals and are arranged in a way that feels naturally progressive thanks to Burton and Luppi’s arranging skills. Jones brings her husky vocals to the table, breathing life into the sultry seductress of the story. Her relaxed and jazz informed vocal delivery perfectly reflects the confident predator prowling her territory. Meanwhile, White duets with himself in both his trademark shaking falsetto and his tobacco chewing cowboy drawl, one dubbed on top of the other, adding an element of urgent self conflict to his character on tracks such as ‘Two Against One’ (‘I get the feeling that it’s two against one, / I’m already fighting me, so what’s another one?’). Jack stated that in writing for the part he tried a different approach: ‘I drove around in a car listening to that music, and I had a handheld recorder in my hand, and I sang to all the instrumentals, all the songs, and I just sang whatever came to my mind as I drove around Nashville’. This approach makes as much sense in listening to the album as it did in making it, since the album truly comes to life when passing the scenery by, even scenery as antithetical to Rome as the outskirts of Coventry or the M4. It just works.
The only thing missing I’d say is a track in which Jack and Norah duet, where the two characters finally meet. However, it is probably better that they don’t; lives often brush against each other, but do not necessarily meet. By leaving these lives unconnected the search continues and the search is what ‘Rome’, the city and the album, is all about.
‘Rome’ is available from record stores now.