Wonderful thing the internet. One moment you’re writing about Dan Stuart and Antonio Gramienteri and next you’re contacted by an Italian songwriter who’s supported these guys in concert and who wants to send you his album. Blabber’n’Smnoke are an obliging crew so pretty soon Gaetano Di Sarno AKA Guy Littell was spinning in the player and we’re glad we replied to his email.
Signore Di Sarno is from South Italy, near Naples and has been writing songs since his early teens. He recalls a Damascene moment when listening to Neil Young’s My My Hey Hey (Out Of The Blue) which led to him deciding to become a musician. After several years playing in various bands he stepped out on his own in 2009 with an EP release. Obviously in thrall to American culture he records under the name Guy Littell, a nod in the direction of Ward Littell, FBI man turned mob lawyer in Ellroy James’s Kennedy assassination novel, American Tabloid. The EP and following album, Later, created waves in the Italian music scene with Littell gaining prized support slots with visiting American acts including Steve Wynn, more of which later. However it’s a hardscrabble world and despite apparent acclaim (according to numerous Google translated reviews and interviews in the Italian music press) Littell has to take a night porter position to make ends meet and it was while doing this that he wrote much of Whipping The Devil Back.
The lonely life of a night porter, neon florescence, streaming videos on YouTube, informs a few of the songs on Whipping The Devil Back such as Lonely And Happy Night and Waiting For My shift To Start however the very starkness of the album provokes a sense of isolation and outsiderness. Littell’s high register invariably leads to comparison to Neil Young, one of his avowed heroes, and it’s Young’s fragile and cracked solo efforts of the mid seventies (Will To Love, Motion Pictures, Borrowed Tune) that loom large. With Littell playing guitar and “lonely piano” along with Fernando Farro on occasional electric guitar, synth and drums it’s a stripped down sound that occasionally effervesces with bursts of guitar or is warmed by keyboard support such as on the tender Deep Enough, one of the highlights here. While it’s not a lo fi album per se elements of Mark Linkhous and Will Oldham are present on some of the songs such as Cedar Forest where a lonesome guitar wails and piano drips aimlessly and on the closing song, You Disturb The Light, which is a wonderful wail of a song. Elsewhere Littell jumps headfirst into Neil Young territory with the excellent title song that lopes along in a fine manner with harmonica provided by none other than Steve Wynn.