"Basically, it's a mystery as to why someone who is brought up in Western Europe and is primarily the product of French and English culture should hear Ali Farka Touré at the age of 19 and feel like a thunderbolt just bashed them on the head," Piers Faccini says.
It was the late '80s, and after spending much of his childhood in rural France, Faccini was back in his native London, playing in a band that covered the Smiths. While digging through record bins he stumbled across the sounds that swiftly changed his musical path: Touré's Sahara-swept grooves, as well as the down-home Delta blues of Skip James. "Many musicians had no interest in that kind of music," he recalls by phone from Italy. "But to me it was like being in Ali Baba's cave."
Faccini was smitten, although, he explains, "you can't fall in love unless you recognize something. That's why when you fall in love it always feels like you've known each other before." Faccini immediately wanted to sell his electric guitar.
"It sounded like everyone else was beating around the bush and this guy went straight to the bull's-eye, straight to truth," the singer-songwriter says of James. "I wanted to make music like that. Of course, I realized it doesn't come that easy." He laughs. "You've got to work at it."
After toiling on his music for many years in the late '90s in a band called Charley Marlowe something clicked in about 2002, when Faccini found his voice, one that resonates from the nexus of his Italian, English, and Gypsy bloodlines and the music of the Mississippi Delta and the North African desert. What's so striking about his sound is its ability to pay homage to musical traditions near and far without falling prey to exoticism or sonic carpetbagging.
Faccini's solo debut, Leave No Trace (Label Bleu, 2004), was heard by storied producer JP Plunier, who came to see Faccini during his tour with the Malian duo Amadou et Mariam. Faccini soon joined the posse of earnest songwriters fostered by Plunier, including Ben Harper and Jack Johnson, an opportunity he describes as nothing short of serendipitous. "I played him my new songs, and two months later we were in the studio," he says. "He was a great guy to hook up with and an incredible foil to have in the studio.... JP has an incredibly instinctive mind and heart."
The resulting album, Tearing Sky (Everloving, 2006), was recorded over 12 days in Los Feliz in Los Angeles. It's a hauntingly timeless work that showcases Faccini's ability to divine essential truths of human experience. Unafraid to jump into the heavy stuff, Faccini writes lyrics that touch on universal themes: being born, dying, loving, hating sans platitudes or overly personal narratives.
Faccini has been on the road opening for Harper on and off for the past year, and the experience has exposed his music to a broad swath of new fans. The reception has been overwhelmingly positive, and many listeners have approached him with their interpretations of his music and stories of how it's affected their lives. Nothing could please him more. "When I'm playing music and people take it to mean a certain thing, I'm really happy, because to me a song belongs to whomever hears it," Faccini says. "To me that's what music is, something that should be used in a personal way." *
With Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals
Sat/17, 7 p.m., $37.50$47.50
2025 Broadway, Oakland