Review: Annie Barbazza – Vive (2020)

Vive is the first solo album by Italian Annie Barbazza.

Originally starting out in music as a progressive rock-loving drummer, Milanese Annie Barbazza is now a 26-year-old singer who has popped up in many interesting musical settings in recent years.

I first came across Barbazza during one of Henry Cow’s former bassist John Greaves’ projects. Greaves and Barbazza have performed live together and Barbazza has appeared on two of Greaves’ solo albums, Piacenza (2015) and Life Size (2018). 2018 also saw the release of the fairly impressive Greg Lake tribute album Moonchild, in which Barbazza sings with only piano accompaniment to songs by King Crimson and Emerson Lake & Palmer originally performed by Lake. But it’s the great live album Folly Bololey – Songs From Robert Wyatt’s Rock Bottom with the North Sea Radio Orchestra that has raised Barbazza’s profile in progressive music circles the most, with Barbazza and Greaves interpreting Robert Wyatt’s songs.

With her first solo album, Vive Barbazza proves that she is not only a strong vocal interpreter but also an original artist with enormous potential as a creator of her own music.


Most of Vive’s compositions are Barbazza’s own, but there are also a couple of compositions by John Greaves and one by Paul Roland. One of Greaves’ songs is a beautiful cover version of ”How Beautiful You Are”, originally recorded for Peter Blegvad’s solo album, which Barbazza sings as a duet with Greaves. Barbazza’s version may be the most stunning interpretation yet of the oft-recorded song. Barbazza’s and Greaves’ voices again work beautifully together.

Alongside Barbazza and Greaves, Vive also host other notable figures from the world of progressive music. The late Greg Lake produced (though the song is so minimalist it makes you wonder what he was really doing?) one of the tracks and Greaves’ Henry Cow bandmate Fred Frith played guitar on a couple of tracks. Also making a somewhat surprising guest appearance on the album is producer star Daniel Lanois who plays pedal steel guitar on two tracks. The album also features a few other musicians on guitar, autoharp and oboe.

How the almost unknown Barbazza has got a superstar like Lanois involved is unclear, but apparently the credit for this and other guests goes to the producer and Barbazza’s manager Max Marchin, who apparently has very extensive connections in the music world. Marchini also runs two labels, Dark Companion Records and Manticore Records, originally owned by Emerson Lake & Palmer.

However, the well-known visitors mentioned above all end up playing rather minor roles and the absolute starring role on Vive belongs to Barbazza’s vocals. Barbazza’s voice is powerful and virtuosic. There is a huge amount of emotion in his voice, but what is particularly interesting is that Barbazza dares to sound quite rough when necessary. Especially in the song ”Lost At Sea” Barbazza’s desperate sounding voice is at times downright frightening to listen to. Barbazza sings throughout the album in English and does so credibly and without any noticeable accent.

The arrangements of the songs are stripped down and the music is quite simple. Barbazza’s voice is usually accompanied by an intimate guitar or bass or piano. Occasionally it is accompanied by percussion, vibraphone or some other instrument. Sometimes Barbazza sings with virtually no background music. Surprisingly, there is also an instrumental track. ”Tide” is a beautiful and utterly ethereal duet between oboe and vibraphone. The musical equivalent of a small watercolour painting. Not great and significant art, perhaps, but pleasant and evocative to listen to.

Vive’s music is therefore quite small and simple in arrangement, but the emotions conveyed by Barbazza are extremely strong. Vive is a bit like a combination of the delicate art-pop of Norwegian singer-songwriter Susanna Sundfør and the progressive, gothic, experimental darkness of Swedish singer-songwriter Anna Von Hausswolf.

Vive is a beautiful and understated album that gives promise of Barbazza’s potential but doesn’t quite yet fully fulfil it. Maybe on the next album.

Best songs: ’Ys’, ’How Beautiful You Are’, ’Lost At Sea’, ’Phantoms’, ’Les Ruines Du Sommeil’

Rating: ***½



  1. Ys (4:12)
  2. June (3:52)
  3. From Too Much Love Of Living (2:39)
  4. Time (1:25)
  5. Nebulæ (3:00)
  6. Wrote Myself A Letter (6:23)
  7. How Beautiful You Are (4:22)
  8. Lost At Sea (2:35)
  9. Phantoms (3:20)
  10. Tide (2:10)
  11. Les Ruines Du Sommeil (4:10)
  12. Lotus Flower (3:33)
  13. Boîte à Tisanes (3:42)


Annie Barbazza: vocals, grand piano, autoharp, guitar, bass, bass drum, synthesizer, organ harmonica, field recordings, E-bow John Greaves: bass (3), vocals (7) Paolo Tofani: acoustic guitar (12) Michael Tanner: autoharp (6) Max Marchini: bass (7,9) Fred Frith: guitar (8, 13) Olivier Mellano: guitar (3, 7) Franz Soprani: hand cello (9) Camillo Mozzoni: oboe (4, 10) Daniel Lanois: pedal steel guitar (1, 11) Lino Capra Vaccina: gong, bells, vibraphone (4, 6 ,10, 12)

Producer: Max Marchini (Greg Lake, track 13)

Label: Dark Companion Records


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