From the minute you see the front cover of Mike Guggino and Barrett Smith’s project, Mia Dolce Farfalla, you know instantly that you’re about to be taken on a unique listening journey. Known primarily for their work as members of the Steep Canyon Rangers, Mia Dolce Farfalla is an exploration of the Italian folk music that Guggino and Smith played together in local cafes and bars as college students. After nearly two decades of studying this obscure genre together, the duo finally decided that a recording was in order.
The primary instrumentation on this release is very sparse. Mike Guggino is featured front and center on not only mandolin, but also mandola and mandolin-banjo. Barrett Smith is primarily featured on guitar, but contributes bass to Tarantella Napoletana. Seth Kauffman, who engineered these recording sessions, plays bass on the bulk of the project. The minimalist approach really serves Mia Dolce Farfella well in every respect. It’s a beautiful example of the less is more ideology.
The compositions featured on Mia Dolce Farfella come from numerous sources. Some were learned from sheet music and others from old recordings and each tune varies rhythmically. Tarantella Napoletana for instance is an upbeat number while Speranze Perdute is a waltz. The recording’s title track, also a waltz, is the sole modern composition on this recording. Written by Guggino, this tremolo heavy tune is composed for and dedicated to his wife, Rebecca. Although the tune Elvira is a polka, this is a piece I could easily see a mandolinist playing in a bluegrass fashion. Each of these rhythmic variations give the project a very smooth flow and make it captivating from start to finish.
To really get the full story on Mia Dolce Farfella, you need to purchase the physical CD. The liner notes written by Guggino detail not only how he came to love Italian folk music, but also contain his and Smith’s ongoing analysis of the tunes. Guggino also points to the various sources for each of the compositions, giving the listener an even greater understanding of what they’re hearing.
Mia Dolce Farfella is a remarkable work. It’s one that should be studied by any aspiring mandolinist no matter what genre they specialize in. Mike Guggino and Barrett Smith have done a wonderful job of bringing these compositions out of obscurity and into the ears of students and fans of folk-based music.