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A musician whose U.S. time has come

Americans are discovering Italian superstar Jovanotti.

For the better part of the last two decades, Italian superstar Jovanotti - real name, Lorenzo Cherubini - has been best known to European audiences for crafting ebullient pop-hop hits such as "Gimme Five." In America, most got wind of him only through collaborations with the brand-name likes of Bono.

Shame on us.

Then again, maybe it was best we waited. Jovanotti believes that at age 43, he has more to communicate than he did as a kid. And it's not just about age or youthful rage.

"Music comes with life - life changes and music changes," Jovanotti says from his home in Cortona, in the Tuscany region of Italy. "When I was 20, my world was a club and two turntables. Then I began visiting other worlds and my music grew in relation to other emotional landscapes."

As Jovanotti's contagious melodies and half-sung/half-spoken vocal style took on rough-hewn world-jazz hues (think Manu Chao), with lyrics archly political and spiritually conscientious, his profile and reputation for intense live performances grew in the United States - so much so that he and his band Soleluna recorded their most recent album, Oyeah, live in New York.

There's a sweat-soaked effervescence to the manner in which Jovanotti tackles the finest moments of his catalog (for example, "Salato Parte Due," "Safari," "Bruto") that has nothing to do with Oyeah's being a live album. There's an abandon to the idea of opening up each familiar tune that's simply freer than anything this writer's witnessed in some time.

Maybe it comes from the fact that his popularity in America hasn't quite reached the 10,000-plus audiences that his Italian stadium shows have. Maybe having something of a blank slate has enlivened the poet and singer. "I wanted to do my songs with a more open structure so to make improvisations and create different solutions in the same song every night," he says.

"The American shows are confidential and intimate. It's as if people, the audience, are participating in a jam with me."