Paolo Nutini captured our attention on the world stage, when he was introduced as one of the youngest to sign with Atlantic Records before Ahmet Ertegun died. It was this honor that lead him to be part of the most historic music event of the decade, the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute in London, with the surviving members of Led Zeppelin reunited for the one-off show. One of the early performers, he kept his place as a smart historian and did not sing his own music, but dove into the archives of blues performing, "Mess Around " by Ray Charles.
This event happened the year after his UK release of the blue-eyed soul to pop record, These Streets, (Atlantic, 2006, UK, 2007, US). With the hook-catchy "New Shoes" and the sultry-pining, "Last Request," doing well on radio charts and plays, the Paisley, Glasgow native was pegged by Atlantic to be a Scottish soul singer, causing a buzz, with his stunning Italian name.
A dedicated loyalist to John Martyn, the fellow Scot joined his ranks in tribute before and after Martyn's passing. Paolo's immersion in quality music is a family trait. Raised to inherit a Chip Shop in Paisley, he was exposed to great Scottish folk songs by the Corries and operatic arias by Verdi and Puccini, thanks to his grandfather who played them in the kitchen. His father and aunt loved soul music, (The Drifters, Ray Charles) and his favorite piano number was Elton John's "Your Song."
These Streets introduced Nutini's style as a contemporary artist, with throwback roots, that captured audiences across the globe and quickly ensconced multi-generations. Italian/Scottish descent, Paolo Nutini has a voice that is like no other. He imparts rich bass tones contrasted with high octaves that later belt out honest improv yowls, while keeping a consistent texture. In this sphere, the listener is aware of every change in tone, because it is so interesting and pleasing to hear.
Nutini's second album, Sunny Side Up (2009) is a mix of lyrical wisdom with smooth reggae like tracks interspersed with Nutini's wholesome Scottish brogue up front in singer-songwriter frames. He is hipster retro, but unlike other artists who only project an image of vintage cool, he actually uses the techniques of past song writing eras to impart a fresh, yet timeless sound. This is all great for fans world wide, and Atlantic has kept Nutini on their label.
His demeanor is warm, friendly, humorous and engaging, balanced with a concrete commitment to music as his personal art. What we really love about Paolo Nutini, however, is his still percolating rebel soul undertone. You see, as enamored as we were with this artist, once we thought we knew Paolo Nutini, "Caustic Love" was released (2014) and it is now THE album to be reckoned with. It is Nutini's element of surprise that has us delighted with him as an artist, here at the website and amongst our readers. Rather than play it all safe, he is challenging himself. This record shows Nutini boldly integrating funk sound scapes, production effect variances, and paying homage to music and cultural history, while taking on topics of raw love, politics and identity.
"And we'll rise. Over love. Over hate. To this iron sky that's fast becoming our mind. Over fear. And into freedom"
Paolo Nutini/Caustic Love
Warner Music UK
1. Scream (Funk My Life Up)
Each track has a unique intro on the record that brings you in like a siren. "Scream" has a hanging beat carries throughout the track, and gives the whole record its tone. It sneaks up on you with swank appeal, and hits you blindsided, unsuspecting. The lyrics are passionate, steamy, hot with a balance of bold symbolic graphics and gentleman's style. The change ups are fast and the mark of trickery. Paolo is completely himself, as he never veers from his Scottish-Italian vocal tones, but belts out quick, old school rap-like rhymes that fit - and only he can pull off. Harmonies and gospel backups are contrasts to the grit that he dishes out for texture, so the song is impossible to unweave. The throw back in the entire record is a genuine love for quality vintage, which just adds to its hip and cool. Once in the web of 'spider milk' you are not coming back anytime soon. Fan videos have women of all ages dreaming of being the next 'Super Girl'.
"She gets me funny she doesn't want none of my money so I pour it over her like gasoline ... "
2. Let Me Down Easy
In the original LP culture, an artist had to perform a variety of music that could run together, but keep the listener engaged. There was no picking a track out of a list, it was all bought and presented together. The range of Paolo's vocals, taste and energy, is captured by this collection he shares. His wide ability to offer various sounds in one set gives this record LP album status. The break to a ballad melody is smart and opens the door for the full on of Paolo's platter of Moody's mood for the love of soul. This track samples Beyye Lavette's Rhino recording by the same name.
3. Bus Talk Interlude
Motown's "Stop! In the name of love" by Marjorie Joseph (Stax Sings Songs of Motown Records) and "Giving Up" as performed by Gladys Knight & The Pips are sampled in this intense bridge. The vocal is actually one voice played at different speeds to tell a short story, but the voices heard sound like different people.
4. One Day
The video for this song is haunted and disturbing, with actress Joanna Lumley at the helm. The song itself is a love ballad of leaving among shadows, brooding and wise, it fits with Nutini's widened style, and is reflectively in a lower key than the rest of the record.
For those outside the Scottish verbiage culture, "numpty" means an ineffective or plainly stupid person. The hard to settle down sentiment is endearing and even down right sexy, only because of Paolo's wit and charming warmth as he sings it. Those among us who have been married for decades can relate to this free form projection on love, marriage and the commitment to the house that comes with "the ring and the baby."
6. Superfly (Interlude)
Curtis Mayfield would have a field day with this smooth groove, following an archive quote from the Kino Library.
7. Better Man
"... she's fearless, she's free ...oh she ... is a real - live - wi-re ...' Listen to the way he says this line on the recorded track. It is as if Paolo redesigned the word, 'wire' in collaboration with Otis Redding, while in a meeting with Van Morrison.
"should she-see fit ... gonna treat her like a real-man, can."
One thing I love about Paolo Nutini's songwriting is the run off lyrics and dropped notes. With his whispery-mumble accent, he chooses the perfect word alliterations to accentuate certain parts of the song, while simultaneously highlighting his vocal talents for the magnificently understated. This proves a romantic croon without even trying. He could stand shoulder to shoulder with some modern male pop flashes and knock them off the stage just by the way he arranges the words pronunciations in his last minute improvs.
"It made me feel all right" and many soul references are smattered throughout the record, showing Paolo's love for the genre and integration of it's basics. Nutini opened for the Rolling Stones early in his career and the instrumentation often has a familiar blues-rock tone to it.
"You''ll either love me or you'll hate me, cause I can see you've got no time for the in between ... but the reflection in your eyes, girl, it looks so much better ... "
8. Iron Sky
"All that life left drippin down the wall, of a dream that cannot dream, in its harsh reality."
This song was the first I'd heard from the new record and I did a double take at the initial listen. It is such a guttural work from Nutini, the strongest I'd ever heard from him on a topic other than relationships. This is about all relationships, human relationships on a global scale and in the smallest places of suffering. I wondered if "living for the city" was a direct reference to Stevie Wonder, but that was just the beginning. We spent some time reviewing Charles Bradley and other artists from the Daptone label last year, as well as grieving the loss of Jimmy Castor and when this song came through, it brought the heart of funk right back.
"You the people have the power to make this life free and beautiful."
Charlie Chaplain's family gave Nutini special permission to use his voice and quotes during the middle of the song, featuring the 1940's anti-Hitler film, The Great Dictator. Nutini has a lot to say to the press about his political views and the lack of leadership in providing honesty and justice to people.
There is a short feature film attached to this recording. It shows real time suffering across cultures due to society's strife and oppression, with hope toward the end as the freedom of the mind emerges and the people start dancing.
Oooh, this has Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Maxwell written all over it. Lenny Kravitz has a song called, "Liquid Jesus" that reminded me of this vibe. Paolo boasts his higher octaves and just belts out a romance groove that invites lava lamps and shag rugs. The well placed horns and harmonies, along with the slow organ tones, are just right to steam up the air that Paolo channels through the room, yes sir.
10. Fashion (Featuring Janelle Monae)
"Flying on a big jet plane ..." I play this in the car in the middle of winter and it makes me feel like I am on vacation. It's fun, fresh and sexy, along with Paolo's quips and giggles between lines. "There's more to life than sex appeal, but sometimes it takes an angel to remember ... "
A hit in the US from Paolo's first record was "New Shoes". He says he always writes about things that are real in his life. Manolo Blahnik is referenced in this song. Let's face it, this man knows and must love shoes. (We do too!)
11. Looking For Something
"The echoes of a woman so kind
Rain like waterfalls and ice-cream on my worried mind
I lay there in the puddle of myself
Fishing from a brand new wish from that bucket down the well
And in her colors I find my faith
Cause I remember every word that lady used to say ... "
It's widely known that Paolo wrote this song for his mother. My entire family knows it now, word for word, breath for breath. It starts off with beautiful string pieces and the bass comes in slow to settle your nerves. Paolo's vocals are paced and steady, until he gets to the core of the sentiment of what this songs means to him. It's at this point, that Nutini embodies every emotion in his range of life, and not only chooses words to say them out loud, but lets his passion for his pain, his mother, her influence, and his growth - come through. He is grieving. He mumbles, he breaks, he moans and aches. He's grateful, reverent, elevated. Watching it live, he almost cries. We cry. We are grateful for our own loved ones - and grateful for this song to give us the words to express it. He lets the pain speak, but behind him is a kickin funk to soul band moving the whole production along, sounding excellent. Soul reference fly out of his worried mind too - "smiling faces in disguise ... " "by back to hypnotize," "keep going against the grain - soon that's all you'll know." "So don't live like one price is right, cause there's some things in your life that you can't fight." The subtle throw backs to the early 70's give us a context, but this song is completely Paolo and what he has endured. The hope is that we are all 'learning to fly' and the connection with a strong mother is eternal. Pain is part of life, but hope comes in and never dies.
"The guardian of my karma, keep my feet on terrain firmer
And then release me like a scient to the sky ... "
12. Cherry Blossom
Nutini said in multiple interviews that he enjoys listening to 70's records when he is alone or having parties. This gem is a reflection and the evolution of it, as its name, blossoms. It's an unfolding of Nutini's creativity, mixed with free association. After the bridge, the band completely, heroically, jams out. There is a trend, that we love, of new singer-songwriters leaning backwards in their production of extended time songs with sections that sound like something of a mix between the Doors and Buffalo Springfield, updated by Ray Lamontagne. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that! Nutini uses his poetic license to drive this one with psychedelic flair to meet Jim Morrison after he has risen or broken through to the other side. Nutini sings this with Roger Daltrey at the Royal Albert Hall.
13. Someone Like You
Amidst the production of many complex songs, Paolo chose to write a lovely, elegant piece to close the album. With many references to angels in response to suggestive situations throughout the record, with this song, he turns the idea on its head and opens the track with angelic harp pieces. Except for the short chorus lines, the lyrics in this song barely repeat themselves, but flow in wonderful rhyme, or half rhymes and harmonize perfectly. The background singing makes the song even sweeter and more innocent. There is freedom in the subject of the song, to be admired, but not controlled. The song is very short, which has a definite impact in that it floats in, makes its statement - and like a ghost, it is gone.
Caustic Love: The whole record has an openness to it, exploring the edges of subconscious processes at times. It is funk, soul, fire and heaven. It is politics, public and private. For artfully mirroring the vitality of life in your music - Thank you, Paolo Nutini.
Read Also : The Ahmet Ertegun Tribute (We were there!) :