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BIGLIETTO PER L'INFERNO (Vinyl Magic VM 006 & VMB006) [1974]

IL TEMPO DELLA SEMINA (Mellow MMP 106) [1974/1992]

There are several Italian bands who made only one album and achieved a semi-legendary status on the strength of it. Several of these bands recorded their albums for an obscure Italian label called Trident. Semiramis is one such band; another is Biglietto per L'Inferno (Ticket To Hell). Unsurprisingly, both bands were among the first reissued on CD by Italy's Vinyl Magic.

The eponymous album which came out in 1974 was the product of a sextet composed of Giuseppe Banfi on keyboards, Mauro Gnecchi on drums, Marco Mainetti on guitar, Giuseppe Cossa on keyboards, Claudio Canali on flute and vocals, and Fausto Branchini on bass.

In THE RETURN OF ITALIAN POP Paolo Barotto says "The group lasted only one year. Biglietto formed in Lecco in 1973 and was musically oriented towards the hard rock style of the first years of the seventies. It was a genre that, with the coming of progressive music, had been overlooked abroad, and in Italy had practically never existed. … The hard rock character of the group's music was never too 'heavy,' and its smooth and 'flowing' characteristic makes the album extremely communicative. … This album is one of the best of all Italian recordings' history, and still today it's considered a real collector's item, especially in Japan and in Germany." (I sold my copy of the LP when I got the CD and got close to $100 for it.) I don't agree that the band's sound on its first (and originally only) album reflects "hard rock." (For a genuine Italian hard rock approach to progressive music I'd suggest De De Lind's IO NON SO DA DOVE VENGO….) Indeed, others have compared it to early PFM, and this is very apparent on the album's first track, "Ansia." When Barotto says the album is "extremely communicative," he means it is very listenable and quite ingratiating. As it is.

"Biglietto was supposed to record its second album in Germany," Barotto says, but it was not released and "unfortunately the group broke up soon after having published a second single." He adds later that, "For collecting purposes it must be noted that their second single is only rumored to have been released; the newspapers of the time reported that info but the group's members actually deny this." The single, "Vivi, Lotta, Pensa"/"L'Arte Sublime di un Giusto Regnare" (credited as Trident TRN 1009), is available on CD, however. It's part of that second album - which was released by the Italian Mellow label in 1992.

It's an odd album, made up of three longish (six to ten minutes) pieces and three short (three minutes or less) pieces. That second single consists of two of the short ones, which appear as the third and fourth tracks on the CD. The music moves around a great deal more, and is far less consistent in nature or quality than on the first album - but it's not without its high points. However, while maybe not what I'd call "hard rock," it is in places less progressive and more rock-oriented. The second track, also the shortest, is a strange, almost satirical piece and totally out of character with the rest of the album. And the final track (the second longest) suddenly sprouts synthesizer effects which would sound more in character on a comedy album. They are so up-front in the mix (they suddenly dominate) that I wonder about the tape from which this CD was made. It sounds more professional than a basement demo - and the sound is pretty rich and full, albeit mastered at a lower volume than might be expected - but I wonder if it's a final mix or a working copy. (I suspect the latter.)

Speaking of sound, Vinyl Magic has released two editions of the first album. The first came out in 1989. The second was released without fanfare in 1993. It can be distinguished from the first most easily by its catalog number, which is VMB006, while the original CD lacked the "B" and was VM 006. The original CD also has a sticker on the jewel box which says "includes bonus tracks," although in fact there are no bonus tracks on the CD - only the original album. The second edition of the CD has notably improved sound; I suspect a better master tape was found. Presently the improved version is the one available, although copies of the earlier version may still be floating around.

As Barotto notes, "After their breakup only the keyboards player Giuseppe 'Baffo' Banfi continued his activity as a solo artist, publishing a few LPs." As Baffo Banfi, he recorded spacey, "new age" music for Klaus Schulze's Innovative Communication label starting in the late 1970s. A selection of pieces recorded for albums in 1979, 1981 and 1982 have been collected on an IC-label Banfi CD, Sound of Southern Sunsets, released in 1988.

Banfi's solo work bears no resemblance at all to the music on either of the Biglietto albums, and should not be sought as a follow-up to those albums. I recommend the original BIGLIETTO PER L'INFERNO strongly. If you like it, try IL TEMPO DELLA SEMINA, but be warned that it's not as good.

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