A “basic” artwork, which immediately draws attention to the squareneck dobro guitar, the musical instrument which is at the core of the album. This is, in a few words, the cover of “Why Not”, the latest album by Paolo Ercoli, a talented player who has worked with Italian and international musicians such as Eric Andersen, Malcolm Holcombe, Steve Forbert, Bocephus King, Jaime Michaels.
The musician from Brianza has recently shared the stage with stars such as Scarlet Rivera and Tony Garnier, former violinist and double bass player of Bob Dylan; in particular, together with Garnier he has just finished touring Italy with Thom Chacon, a songwriter from Durango, Colorado.
“Why Not“, released a few weeks ago, was produced thanks to a crowdfunding campaign (you can still donate at this link: https://gofund.me/f3183148) and it is produced and distributed by Appaloosa Records. The album is the first work by an Italian player of dobro squareneck guitar and pedal steel guitar to be published in our country. These instruments, in fact, are usually part of the American tradition and belong to country, blues and bluegrass music.
The name “dobro”, by which resophonic guitars are commonly known (it is, in fact, a registered trademark of Gibson) is the acronym of “DOpyera BROthers”: John Dopyera, a Slovakian who emigrated to the USA, was the inventor of the instrument in the late Twenties. Moreover, the word “dobro” means “good” in many Slavic languages and therefore it is a “lucky” name for the instrument, made of a steel or wooden body and of an internal aluminum cone that gives it the typical “metallic” sound.The pedal steel guitar is instead a more recent invention, dating back to the Fifties, by the manufacturer Paul Bigsby. Both instruments are played with a thick metal bar that produces gradual variations of the notes, using a technique called “slide”, which dates back to Hawaiian music and has had a considerable influence on the traditional American style.Paolo Ercoli is a master of these instruments and, after having enriched the works of many musicians with his expertise, has finally produced his own album that contains 19 tracks, 12 of which are of his own composition. The cover of “Why Not” wants to draw attention to the instrument itself and to its expressive qualities, without other images or graphic details. Ercoli, in a recent interview, maintained that he appreciates famous artworks such as that of “Animals” by Pink Floyd, with the famous “flying pig” above an industrial landscape. Anyway, he also pointed out that the picture of the front cover of “Why Not”, a shot by Paolo Brillo, wants to highlight the presence of the resonator guitar and not of the musician.In the photo, Paolo is wearing a white shirt, a gray jacket and a pair of jeans, but his face is not visible, being “cut” out of the frame. The eye of the observer, therefore, is attracted by the hands of the player and by the guitar he is holding on his knees. It is a Scheerhorn model, made by America’s most famous resophonic guitar manufacturer, Tim Scheerhorn. The lettering of the title is made with a stencil effect and a “western” style font, as a further reference to American traditional music.The back cover, on the other hand, portrays Paolo Ercoli in a thoughtful attitude, listening to the tuning of the mandolin while sitting at the pedal steel guitar. The musician is wearing a more informal outfit: a checked shirt and a leather waistcoat. His face is visible, but he is looking downwards, while the pedal steel and the arm that holds the instrument stand out in the foreground. The background is of a brick-red colour, like the shirt. The image as a whole, based on brown nuances, evokes a vintage, Old Western atmosphere. Thus, the artist has highlighted the three main instruments played in the album, establishing a continuity with the American musical and cultural tradition. It is as if Ercoli was born “on the wrong side of the ocean”, as one of the tracks of the LP goes.
Another type of guitar, whose distinctive sound is featured in several songs, is the Weissenborn, which appears in some photographs of the booklet. It has no metal parts, but it has a high top, so it is played on the knees but, differently form the resonator, it is tuned in D instead of G.The internal booklet features the lyrics of the songs, other portraits of the musician taken by various photographers and thanks to the colleagues, from Italy and abroad, who sang or played in one or more songs. Among them, it is worth mentioning Raffaele Kohler, the legendary Milanese trumpeter who soothed the hearts of Italian people with his solos during the first lockdown.
In total, 32 foreign and 24 Italian guests collaborated with Ercoli.
The presence of a dobro guitar on the cover, without further elements, has a famous precedent: it was the artwork of “Brothers in Arms” (1984), one of the most successful albums of Dire Straits and one of the best-selling records in the history of music, with over 30 million copies sold.The instrument, in this case, is the National Style-O 1937 resophonic guitar, belonging to Mark Knopfler. It is a model that was produced from 1930 to 1941. The picture was taken by Deborah Feingold.
This guitar has obvious differences from Ercoli’s, since its body is entirely made of steel, while the one used by the Italian musician is made with various woods, which can change in the different models depending on personal taste. In addition, Knopfler’s metal guitar, called “dobro roundneck”, is played in the same position as the traditional guitar, sometimes using a “bottleneck”, a metal tool, on the little finger or ring finger to give the particular “slide” sound. On the other hand, the “dobro squareneck” used by Ercoli can only be played horizontally, on the knees, with a solid metal bar that is held with the left hand and that is slid along the entire keyboard. Moreover, the two guitars are obviously tuned differently.
The cover of “Why Not” can be considered as an authentic “treasure chest” that, behind a basic appearance, reveals much more than it expresses at first sight: an all-star cast and the charm of melodies and instruments, belonging to the American tradition and feelings, that will fascinate Italian listeners as well.
You can read an interview with Paolo Ercoli here: https://marynowhere.com/2021/07/19/paolo-ercoli-american-passion-in-an-italian-heart/