Zarastro is the title of the debut album by Mandrake, the five-piece band from Livorno, with lead singer and songwriter Giorgio Mannucci, Stella Sorgente on double bass, Asita Fathi on violin, Mauro La Mancusa on trumpet, guitar and piano, and Dario Gentili on drums and percussion.
The album is an addictive pop-folk-classical combination with a sound that is familiar and comforting, yet new and refreshing. Despite a distinct Brit influence on some of the tracks, the band resists the temptation to mimic new Brit folk heros Mumford and Noah, giving us instead generous helpings of violin and double bass strings which permeate Giorgio Mannucci's eleven compositions - all in English - with warm and mystic notes.
Giorgio's lyrics are complex, sometimes unfathomable, often disturbing, with talk of 21st century themes like war, weapons, arrogance, uncertainty and confusion, but they are counterbalanced by the band's slickly performed optimistic and uplifting melodies, along with the richness of Giorgio's vibrato tones.
I love the hypnotic eastern rhythms on Time, and Giorgio's mournful (and almost Mancunian-sounding!) voice on I'm So Confused (part II). The stirring lyrics on the final track, Soft Temple - "kiss me and let me swim between your soul and your skin" and "I could erase your fears" - restore hope and faith in romantic love and relationships.
If there is an Italian band that stands a chance of getting noticed outside the national borders, Mandrake could be the one. Zarastro has an international appeal that deserves to trigger interest both inside Italy and beyond.
Zarastro is released on the ForEars label on 5th December 2011.