Al Castellana is an Italian soul singer. So given this year’s buzz on all things Italian (Mario Biondi, anyone?), I came to Al’s ‘Outside My Window’ with a degree of excitement. Sadly the first two cuts disappointed. The preamble ‘Outside My Window, pt 1’ was a loose ramble while the uber-ponderous ‘Honest Man’ was equally disconnected and had me reaching for the skip button. Then the third track kicked in and my mood lightened instantly. Big Al, you see, had moved to another level… a level with an unexpected high retro soul quotient. The song that made me take notice was the lovely ‘Lucky Man’ – a throwback to the wonderful sound of the Delfonics. Lovely and light, it’s a dreamy ballad with Al leading in a fractured falsetto supported by some very svelte harmonies which weave around a pleasing little orchestral riff. And the good news is that the album boasts a few more with the same qualities. Try the gentle ‘My Woman’, the very catchy ‘Still The Same’ or the cover of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)’… any would stand out on any retro flavoured soul set.
Elsewhere there are a pair of fine jazzy ballads (‘We Proceed’ and ‘Salt Lamp Light’) while on the closing ‘Singing With My Friend’ Signor Castellana dips his brush into Steely Dan’s musical palette. Some nifty laid-back jazz guitar on this from Danielle Dibiaggio, by the way. ‘Nobody’ is a decent cut too… a catchy pop/soul confection.
In fairness ‘Outside My Window’ isn’t as complete a soul album as Mario Biondi’s ‘Sun’ but clearly Castellana was never trying to “do a Biondi”. Indeed he’s always been his own man; this is his fourth solo album and he’s built a big domestic following and research reveals he’s “big in Japan”. This new collection will clearly delight his old followers … both in Italy and Japan. But I’d ask you to investigate the set – notably the tracks ‘Lucky Man’ and ‘Still The Same’. Investigation is particularly recommended for those of you who dig retro, blue-eyed soul boy, Mayer Hawthorne.