Carmen Consoli: Elettra

Italy’s leading female singer-songwriter, Carmen Consoli has been building a following in the United States. Her woman-centric, Mediterranean folk-rock exudes an alluring sensuality.

Carmen Consoli


Label: Universal
US Release Date: Import
Italy Release Date: 2009-09-09
UK Release Date: Import

The Sicilian singer and songwriter Carmen Consoli has called herself “una piccola cantantessa” -- a little girl singer -- but now that she’s 35, the self-deprecating diminutive hardly fits anymore. Then again, maybe it never did. Since she released her debut album, Dueparole, in 1996, Consoli has been a formidable artist with big ideas and ambitions, and the talent to realize them.

Italy’s leading female singer-songwriter, Consoli has been gradually building a following in the United States, with appearances at showcase venues like Joe’s Pub in Manhattan and rock festivals like South by Southwest. In 2007, she performed at Central Park’s Delacorte Theater, home to the New York Shakespeare Festival. Her January 2010 show at City Winery in Manhattan sold out, further evidence that Consoli is making inroads in the U.S. market.

Raves from other musicians haven’t hurt, either. After catching her and her band at Joe’s Pub, Elvis Costello remarked that Consoli “played more original musical ideas in her first three songs than most American, or for that matter, English bands manage in a whole evening" (as quoted by Jim Bessman in Global Rhythm, 3/13/07).

Consoli is a gifted lyricist with a woman-centric viewpoint and a musician equally adept at tender, introspective ballads and fierce, roiling rockers. With her powerful voice that can go from a breathy purr to a Joplin-esque wail, and her strong stage presence, Consoli cuts a compelling figure on recordings and in concert. She also can be alluringly subtle, exuding a slow-burn sensuality.

She’s given reign to the latter side of her musical personality in recent years, releasing, in 2006, Eva contro Eva, an album that was a major departure from her previous work. Instead of electric guitars and rock grooves, Consoli created something new -- a pan-Mediterranean folk-rock with acoustic guitars, mandolins, violins, accordions, bouzoukis, and even a string quartet. The tempos were slow to medium, and Consoli's vocals were more conversational than declamatory.

The change in direction continues on Elettra, Consoli’s latest release. Like its predecessor, Elettra is a concise work, 10 songs in some 40 minutes. It also sounds much like Eva,” with mainly acoustic instrumentation and stylistic influences drawn from Sicilian and other Mediterranean folk music.

In an October 2009 interview with Panorama magazine, Consoli said that although “Eva contro Eva is the direction that I want to follow,” the new album is focused more on lyrics than on sonic exploration. (She sings in Italian and Sicilian dialect, but in concert she introduces the songs in fluent English.) What’s most on her mind is women’s lives and experience, including their complicated relationships with men – lovers, fathers, and uncles.

The album’s opening track, “Mandaci una cartolina” ("Send Us a Postcard") was inspired by the sudden death of her father Giuseppe last year. Though there’s obviously deep feeling in the words, there’s also irony. Death is likened to an unplanned holiday, a surprise vacation. Consoli wonders, “Of all the days on which you could’ve left / why did you think of Monday?” Then, she asks him to, “send us a postcard and a nice photo of you taking the sun on the beach.”

There are no warm feelings, ironic or direct, on “Mio Zio” ("My Uncle"). The narrator recalls the eponymous uncle, now dead, as a sexual abuser who used to put “his greedy hands between my legs.” But the niece’s revelation of the abuse brought her only disbelief and scorn. Here the music is more agitated, angrier, reminiscent of “Matilde odiava i gatti” ("Matilda Used to Hate Cats"), Consoli’s memorable portrait of explosive female rage from her 2002 album, L’Eccezione.

The album’s title character is not the Elektra of Greek mythology, who instigated her brother to matricide. Instead she’s a prostitute who, though she practices a trade that subjects her to “indignant gazes”, is moved by genuine emotion and passion. She craves a lover who will “embrace me, in the light of day.”

Though Consoli has said that words and stories are central to Elettra, the music is as sophisticated and captivating as her lyrics. Backed mostly by members of her excellent touring band, Consoli sings with warmth, subtlety and vivid emotion. On “’A Finestra” ("At the Window"), her staccato phrasing and earthy timbre recall the great Sicilian folksinger (and Consoli role model) Rosa Balestrieri.

Consoli displays her chops on electric guitar, bouzouki, and bass on “Marie ti amiamo” ("Marie, We Love You"), co-written with the Sicilian composer Franco Battiato. Sung in Arabic, Italian, and French by Consoli, Battiato, and guest vocalist Said Benmenni, “Marie”, with its allusive lyrics and pan-Mediterranean ambiance, provides some of Elettra’s most arresting moments.

Cerebral and passionate, tender and angry, inward looking but acutely attuned to social realities, Carmen Consoli’s Elettra captures a remarkable artist at a crucial stage in her career. The former “piccola cantantessa” is now mature, but still evolving, rooted in a particular place and culture yet universal in her concerns and, as I like to think, in her appeal.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Very few of their peers surpass Eurythmics in terms of artistic vision, musicianship, songwriting, and creative audacity. This is the history of the seminal new wave group

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominating committee's yearly announcement of the latest batch of potential inductees always generates the same reaction: a combination of sputtering outrage by fans of those deserving artists who've been shunned, and jubilation by fans of those who made the cut. The annual debate over the list of nominees is as inevitable as the announcement itself.

Keep reading... Show less

Barry Lyndon suggests that all violence—wars, duels, boxing, and the like—is nothing more than subterfuge for masculine insecurities and romantic adolescent notions, which in many ways come down to one and the same thing.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) crystalizes a rather nocturnal view of heterosexual, white masculinity that pervades much of Stanley Kubrick's films: after slithering from the primordial slime, we jockey for position in ceaseless turf wars over land, money, and women. Those wielding the largest bone/weapon claim the spoils. Despite our self-delusions about transcending our simian stirrings through our advanced technology and knowledge, we remain mired in our ancestral origins of brute force and domination—brilliantly condensed by Kubrick in one of the most famous cuts in cinematic history: a twirling bone ascends into the air only to cut to a graphic match of a space station. Ancient and modern technology collapse into a common denominator of possession, violence, and war.

Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow shines on her impressive interpretation of Fontella Bass' classic track "Rescue Me".

Canadian soul singer Elise LeGrow pays tribute to the classic Chicago label Chess Records on her new album Playing Chess, which was produced by Steve Greenberg, Mike Mangini, and the legendary Betty Wright. Unlike many covers records, LeGrow and her team of musicians aimed to make new artistic statements with these songs as they stripped down the arrangements to feature leaner and modern interpretations. The clean and unfussy sound allows LeGrow's superb voice to have more room to roam. Meanwhile, these classic tunes take on new life when shown through LeGrow's lens.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.