Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats – Nell’ Ora Blu Review

Nell’ Ora Blu, or “the blue hour,” is a love letter to Italian cinema, particularly the Poliziotteschi (crime) and Giallo (horror) styles. While Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats are famously a four-piece fuzzy psych-rock band, the vast majority of this record was conceived, written, and performed by main brain Kevin Starrs. This is by and large an instrumental, soundtrack-adjacent album, though there are tracks on here that will remind fans it’s still Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats (“La vipera,” “Solo la morte ti ammanetta”). Starrs’ story centers on corruption and revenge; a morally bankrupt businessman entangled in a plot of deception and murder by the very townsfolk he’s been abusing. The concept is solid enough, and the music and voice talent resembles an authentic ’70s soundtrack. But the proof is in the pudding, can the whopping 78 minutes of NellOra Blu deliver a rewarding listening experience as well as an ambitious artistic statement?

NellOra Blu’s tracks can be divided into three categories: voice-overs that propel the plot, instrumentals that set the scene, and more standard psych-rock tracks that emphasize a certain mood or motivation. The music itself evokes throwback Italian cinema without directly sounding like its major contributors, although I hear echoes of Ennio Morricone and Angelo Badalamenti throughout. Warbly, creeping synths form the backbone of many pieces, with simplistic half-ballroom, half-stoner drum patterns thumping over a pleasantly perceptible grooving bassline. I give a lot of credit to Starrs for incorporating as many different timbres and instruments as he did into this record; NellOra Blu is a labor of love and well outside the wheelhouse for the songwriter. But writing an album masquerading as a film soundtrack—or as Starrs says a radio play—brings with it its own challenges.

The voice-over tracks of NellOra Blu—all in Italian, much like their titles—shine brightest, hewing closest to the pulpy narrative and providing much-needed context to the shifting tones of the music (speaking Italian would help a lot here). Securing top voice-over talent—industry titans Franco Nero and Edwige Fenech—was a priority for Starrs, and I’ll admit tracks like “Giustizia di strada – Lavora fino alla morte” and “La bara resterà chiusa” pair their dialogue and foreboding atmosphere masterfully. The big plot beats work best; the genesis of the murder plot (“Giustizia di strada – Lavora fino alla morte), the heavy breathing phone call (“Tortura al telefona”) and the violent climactic act itself (“L’omicidio”). Starrs’ music naturally merges with the plot in these tracks, and the listener is swept up in the drama of the pulsing synths and slippery grooves. Taken on their own these exposition-heavy tracks could make a solid, smaller collection, but they co-exist along with other songs that threaten to drag the album past its natural lifespan.

As the beginning of NellOra Blu passes and the album settles in it becomes apparent this is ideal mood or background music, but poses a challenge for focused listening. The opening third of the album moves quickly with plenty of voice-over, but the one-two punch of “Il tesoro di Sardegna” and “Nell’ora blu,” with their combined 11 minutes of downtempo musings, disperses the suspense of the previous tracks. The lengthy, meandering center of the record doesn’t really pick up again until the end of “Il gatto morto,” where the events of the premeditated murder begin and the music—and story—regains prior energy. The other glaring—and potentially deal-breaking—issue here is the language barrier. I was lucky enough to have a story summary provided to me by the band, but I don’t know if this will be made available to the public. YMMV on this point, but knowing the outline of the story pulls the listener in and orients them with the music as it unfolds. Just as a film would feel half-full without its music, the score here feels less than without the illustration of the story to aid the listener (I envy my Italian-speaking readers, this album should come much easier for you).

This was a difficult album to review and score, if only because Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats presented me with such an outside-the-box album. Ultimately I feel NellOra Blu is a successful—if overextended—excursion into a sound world not often heard in these halls. Fans of the band and of throwback film music should set aside some time to check this out, and hopefully be able to secure a synopsis. As for me I can see myself, some six months down the line, dealing with an inconsolable newborn and turning to the smoky, slinky sounds of NellOra Blu to find some measure of respite and release.

Rating: 3.0/5.0
DR: Stream | Format Reviewed: Stream
Label: Rise Above Records
Websites: facebook.com | uncleacidband.com
Releases Worldwide: May 10th, 2024

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