A reticent, reluctant songwriter takes center stage once more

Since emerging reluctantly as a recording artist back in the mid-1990s, the Larissa-based, state-employed mechanical engineer Thanassis Papaconstantinou has found enough spare time from his regular schedule and, more crucially, inspiration to render some of the contemporary local scene’s most compelling work. What probably began as a purely personal quest, or late night escapism from daytime routine via his crafting of abundant little musings into terrific songs, has turned into a full-scale adventure both musically and in terms of reception. The songwriter has attracted some of the country’s most self-respecting full-time musicians to collaborate on his albums, as well as a bulging cult following. His admirers, who are acquainted with the shy songwriter through his work alone – there are no video clips; concert performances are quite rare, and interviews or photo shoots even rarer – may be surprised by «Agrypnia» (Sleeplessness), Papaconstantinou’s latest, sixth album, and his most wayward to date. But, accustomed to change, they probably will not be disappointed. New listeners may also be impressed. The new album comes two years after «Vrachnos Profitis,» which was branded Album of the Year in 2000 by many local critics. As has been typical throughout his six-album evolvement, Papaconstantinou has – successfully – introduced and integrated new musical roads without forsaking older ones. The preceding release contained a blitz of wild guitars blended into his primarily acoustic sound. Prior to that, there was the exotic musical flair of the Turkmenistani group Ashkhabad on 1998’s «Lafyra» album, imported along with the sensual voice of an older collaborator, the vocalist Melina Kana, to embellish Papaconstantinou’s customary rudimentary style. The songwriter’s latest penchant highlights a reduced emphasis on rigid song structure for less disciplined progressions that are inflected with jazz and rock elements – on several instrumental tracks. His imaginative and eloquent image-laden lyrics are, as on Papaconstantinou’s previous efforts, deeply immersed in late night thoughts of nostalgia and yearning. «Dromeas,» a trumpet-led instrumental that builds into a frenzy, «S’Afino Geia,» which slowly evolves into a mysterious sweeping journey, and «Liquid,» a jazz-tinged trippy song, reflect Papaconstantinou’s latest musical cravings. Older styles, or peculiar, hard-to-pinpoint acoustic balladry – a twisted take on Greek folk and old laika with discreet Western touches – are not neglected. One of Papaconstantinou’s pals, the renowned Thessaloniki-based songsmith Socrates Malamas, who has guested on previous albums and often performs songs by Papaconstantinou at his shows, appears here, too. Malamas provides his trademark low-pitched vocals on a couple of ballads, as well as on «Aghia Nostalgia,» a raunchier reinterpretation of the title track from Papaconstantinou’s debut album, released in 1994. Another older track redressed for the occasion, «Astro tou Proinou,» is sung by another greatly respected musical figure from the country’s north, Nikos Papazoglou. He has played an important role in helping open the door for creative northern artists such as Papaconstantinou and Malamas with his own innovative work which started surfacing two decades ago. As was the case with the predecessor, «Vrachnos Profitis,» family members have participated in the latest recording sessions. The aging female relatives who sang an old folk number on the previous album have been replaced by younger blood, the 43-year-old songwriter’s teenage twin sons, on an eerie number. As reluctant a singer as he is a songwriter-gone-public, Papaconstantinou lends his bland yet authentic voice to the remainder. His lyrics for one of the new tracks, «Rua Da Bella Vista,» were inspired by the writings of another elusive figure, the early 20th-century Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa, who wrote under four names – his own, that of Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Alvaro dos Campos. Besides the poet’s work, his evasive nature must have appealed to Papaconstantinou. Despite the increasing attention his work has gained, Papaconstantinou remains firmly fixed to rural life in hometown Larissa, where he completely shuns the big city scene. A marketing scheme’s nightmare for any record label official, he has already distanced himself from doing interviews as part of the new album’s promotional effort, an official said. But several shows in the capital are being discussed for after the Easter break.

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