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(Artis ARCD 029) [1991] (Vinyl Magic VM 050) [1995]

Hailing from the part of Italy near Venice, Capsicum Red were a quartet who were initially promoted as "British" in 1971 by their record company, the Bla-Bla label. The quartet consisted of Bruno "Red" Canzian on vocals and guitar, Paolo Steffan on vocals and bass, Mauro Bolzan on keyboards, and Roberto Balocco on drums.

Their first single, "Ocean," was adopted as a TV theme. Paolo Barotto, in THE RETURN OF ITALIAN POP, explains: "The piece was not exceptional but it entered the hit parade thanks to a subtle publicity campaign from Bla-Bla which promoted the quartet as being an English group. This demonstrates the strong 'spell' cast on the Italian public by foreign groups. If Capsicum Red had been promoted as musicians coming from the Venice region, surely it would not have arrived as far as the hit parade. That same year a second single was produced. This 45 is very dance oriented and 'English' too, titled 'Tarzan.' At the beginning of 1972 the group played live with a new drummer, Roberto Balocco (coming from the disbanded Panna Fredda) and with a different musical repertory. This is further articulated in the album..... This album, published in 1972, presents two sides which are completely different. One side of the record is a rock version of Beethoven's 'Patetica' ["Pathetique"] (following the success of 'Pictures At An Exhibition' by ELP). This piece fully expresses the group's potentiality. All the musicians came from music conservatory backgrounds. The keyboard is especially professional. [By which he means good.] The second part of the album includes several selections written by Red Canzian, whose work, unfortunately, obscures the fine 'Patetica.'" The group broke up a year later, due to a lack of bookings.

Good as "Patetica" is -- and it's one of the best "rock versions" of a classical piece I've ever heard -- I don't agree that the band's own compositions undercut it. I think they rank right up there with Beethoven's. Particular credit must go to the keyboards, but everything works -- the instruments mesh into an organic whole, totally in service to the music. And although a blues harmonica surfaces at one point, the overall sense of this album is that it provides an excellent blend of Mediterranean melodies and classical licks.

Of special note is Red's low, distant, and wailing guitar solo during "Patetica," which is quite reminiscent of Robert Fripp's keening guitar solo in "The Devil's Triangle" on the second King Crimson album, IN THE WAKE OF POSEIDON. On the original "side two" of the album there are tracks which separately showcase piano, acoustic guitar, and organ. This is a powerful and rewarding album.

After the band broke up Red Canzian joined the Italian pop group, I Pooh, and Paolo Steffan formed Genova and Steffan (described as "a melodic duo"). Capsicum Red made only this one album.

But there are two CDs. In 1991 Artis released the first one. The Artis label has reissued much material from the Cramps and Bla-Bla labels on CDs successfully -- but not this time. Hampered by missing master tapes, they made an audio transcription directly from an LP. It was not, apparently, a very clean copy, nor well-pressed. There is audible surface noise, occasional clicks and pops, and all of the original side two (tracks 3, 4, and 5) sounds like it was filtered by an AM radio, and appears to be recorded at a lower volume level. The drums sound muffled and distorted. I was very disappointed in this release when it came out -- the audio cassette I'd made from the LP to play in my car sounded far better.

In 1995 Vinyl Magic did their own CD of the album. I suspect it too is taken from an LP, but it has much better sound (albeit no better than that of the original LP) and no obvious surface noises. Additionally, unlike the Artis CD it has bonus tracks -- the four tracks from the two singles. These are unimpressive and totally different from (and inferior to) the album, but it's nice to have them for historical reference. (They don't sound "English" to me, but they do sing in English, and Maggie Bell, of Stone the Crows, sings backup on one.) Clearly Vinyl Magic's is the CD of choice. (It also has more faithful packaging, replicating the Bla-Bla logo on its label, and -- like the Artis packaging -- including the inner-sleeve art & lyrics.)

Capsicum Red ("hot pepper") was a one-album band, like so many fine Italian bands of the seventies, but this album comes highly recommended.

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