Al Castellana - Outside My Window (2013)

Al Castellana
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Al Castellana has been a towering presence on the Italian soul music scene for over a decade, with his popular debut album, Niente Di Nuovo, and collaborations with some of Italy's most popular artists, Castellana solidified his reputation with an appearance on the funk compilation, Funk in Italia, before releasing his third album, Funk me to the Moon.

Fast forward to 2013, and his latest musical opus, Outside My Window, finds him at the top of his game and in fine form as an artist immersed in a world of solitude and longing, but also filled with hope and optimism for the future, his instinctive and deeply soulful style is on full display. Elegantly poised and admirably self-assured, Castellana could well may be one of the finest male vocalists on the soul scene today.

Al Castellana has been a towering presence on the Italian soul music scene for over a decade, with his popular debut album, Niente Di Nuovo, and collaborations with some of Italy's most popular artists, Castellana solidified his reputation with an appearance on the funk compilation, Funk in Italia, before releasing his third album, Funk me to the Moon.

Fast forward to 2013, and his latest musical opus, Outside My Window, finds him at the top of his game and in fine form as an artist immersed in a world of solitude and longing, but also filled with hope and optimism for the future, his instinctive and deeply soulful style is on full display. Elegantly poised and admirably self-assured, Castellana could well may be one of the finest male vocalists on the soul scene today.

Outside My Window is divided into two theoretical parts (an A and B side), giving an affectionate nod to the seventies vinyl soul albums from which Castellana clearly draws his inspirations. Gloriously framed and brimming with beautiful instrumentation and solid vocals, Outside My Window radiates a warmth and glow that is most appealing. Written, arranged and produced by the man himself,  alongside Danielle“Speed” Dibiaggio, the window to the world Castellana looks out on is an often mournful, bleak and isolated one, but in that landscape of uncertainly lurks insurmountable joy.

Opening with the sombre vocal whimperings of title track, this master of emotion reveals the grit in his voice and his sense of maddening as he laments over the lost souls in unwitting despair just a stone’s throw away. "Outside my window there is a stink I won't forget/ there's a wind that blows away the pain/ there is sadness in my heart." Clearly written during a time of great emotional upheaval, Castellana conjures up a desolate world and a song that feels as if it belongs on one of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On. If that statement raises some eyebrows, the sugary “Lucky Man,“ recently featured on the compilation album, The So Soulful Collection, will leave you in no doubt that, had Castellana started his career during soul’s 70s heyday, his name would be uttered in the same exalted  breath as the likes of that decade’s greatest. With its doo wop vocal refrains and mildly galloping horns, "Lucky Man" showcases an artist thoroughly present, but one seeped in the traditions of classic soul with a sound so familiar you feel as if you’ve heard his melodies somewhere before.

Aside from the kaleidoscope of musical colors on display, there is also something rather endearing in which the way Castellana frames his sometimes treacly falsetto voice around certain songs, in particular the flute-imbued "Still the Same,” the album’s standout track. Recalling soul group Erasmus Hall’s early 80s chestnut, “Your Love Is My Desire,” Castellana emotes with breezy authority eliciting an occasional smile with his charming phrasing. “You are my Qin, my everything/ and I'm ready to prove, I'm still the funky boy/ Still your soul man/ and I've got sweet notes and melodies to sing.” His declaration is as natural sounding as the Steve Wonder and Curtis Mayfield salutations that memorably swish and swoop through the album’s twelve tracks. Castellana is no mere imitator though, deftly displaying his own artistry on the disc’s closing track, the soaring and upbeat two-stepper, “Singing with My Friend.“ Bringing this wonderful collection to an all too short close, the superlative guitar line jams its way into infinity and hopefully into the collective hearts and minds of soul music fans everywhere.

It’s always a treat experiencing an artist at his or her creative peak, and that’s what Al Castellana delivers on Outside My Window.  It’s a rare treat and an album worth celebrating. Highly Recommended.

By Garry Moran

 
Choice Cut - Maysa - "Lovin' You Is Easy"

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