What’s more Halloweenish than a deadly spider? Newpoli earned their place on this page this month since the fiery Italian folk jamband play a lot of tarantella dances. Historically speaking, the tarantella has a lot more cultural resonance beyond its role as a folk remedy designed to help sweat out spider poison. It’s associated with women in particular, with madness and also heartbreak. The Boston-based band actually play many styles in addition to tarantellas, but they excel at them. Their new album Mediterraneo – streaming at rockpaperscissors – reaffirms how eclectic, and how electric they are: it sounds like a live show rather than a sterile, digital facsimile. They’re playing the latest installment of the ongoing NY Gypsy Festival this Friday night at 10 PM at Drom; advance tix are $15
The album cover is particularly apt: two crowds reaching with open arms toward each other across the Mediterranean: an embrace of commonalities, or outrage over immigrant crises? It opens with the title track, frontwomen Carmen Marsico and Angela Rossi harmonizing with an eerie, imploring intensity that reminds how much cross-pollination there’s been from Albania and the Balkans to points further west over the centuries. Karen Burciaga’s violin dances acerbically, Jussi Reijonen’s mandola lingers and jangles, much like a twelve-string guitar, over the groove of bassist Jeff McAuliffe and percussionist Fabio Pirozzolo.
So’ emigrant has subtle Middle Eastern tinges percolating amid its mandola swirl, violin soaring uneasily overhead. Lagr’m’ (Tears) is a woundedly swaying ballad with rich, acidic vocal harmonies that recall Bulgarian music, Reijonen multitracking a luscious mandola solo over an elegantly anthemic acoustic guitar pulse. The women’s voices reach even further toward the east with their harmonies in the intro to Lu Poveru Vicenzino (Poor Vincenzino), with a hypnotically booming, Egyptian-inflected beat and Reijonen’s delicately plaintive mandola.
Rossi takes over the lead vocals in ‘Na Voce Sola (A Single Voice) with a slashing, melismatic insistence: Dan Meyers’ psychedelic bagpipes and Reijonen’s flickering oud provide both bracing texture and cross-pollinated resonance. The band open Me Ne Vogghje Scenni ‘n Fintanella (rough unpoetic translation: I Don’t Want to Put Pictures in My Window) as a spare, pensive oud-and-vocal piece and rise to a mighty, angst-fueled sway on the wings of the violin.
Seven tracks in, we finally get a tarantella: a bouncy original titled Tarantella Avernetella. By contrast, the group work a witchy, circling theme in Tarantella Della Sciffra with an eerily looming Meyers recorder solo at the center.
The flamenco-ish Lu Jocu di la Palumbella may or may not be about a moth: Reijonen saves his most tersely memorable solo work here for acoustic guitar. The final cut is the plaintive, rustically trancey Iere Sera (Last Night). In addition to all these edgy minor-key numbers, the album has more than a quarter of an hour worth of hypnotically thumping, lighthearted peasant dances. Newpoli are reputedly a real whirlwind onstage: this show could be the highlight of this year’s festival.