Review Summary: The masterpiece of a poet
It is difficult to explain the greatness of Francesco Guccini to an English-speaking audience. This is because Guccini is, above all, a poet. Not only that: he is the most archetypal representation (together with Claudio Lolli) of the engagĂ© and leftish singer-songwriter.
Francesco Guccini began his musical adventure as a songwriter in the 60s, writing successful songs for some Italian beat groups (in particular I Nomadi and Equipe 84). After a couple of albums related to the most classic American folk (that of Bob Dylan and Phil Ochs, to understand), with the album "L'isola non trovata" he implements a partial stylistic change, enriching his sound with prog ideas and surrounding himself of first-rate musicians: in addition to the American folk guitarist Deborah Kooperman, the leader of Equipe 84 Muarizio Vandelli (sitar and mellotron) and the guitarists Gigi Rizzi (first-rate session player) and Franco Mussida (guitarist of the PFM), figure the entire line-up of the prog band Soft Machine: bass player Ares Tavolazzi (also in Area), keyboardist Vince Tempera (also in Il Volo) and drummer Ellade Bandini. With this very solid line-up (with the exception of Mussida), and strengthened by the experience accumulated in the previous album, Guccini gives his masterpiece, the seminal "Radici" to the press.
The disc consists of seven, articulated tracks in which American folk is bent to the lyrical needs of the singer-songwriter. The opening passage, "Radici", sheds light on some of the themes most dear to Guccini: the re-enactment of the peasant and mountain past, the landscapes of the Emilian Apennines, the melancholy for something that has been and no longer exists, however refusing any sterile pastism and constantly projecting forward the search for new roots. Musically, the title track is a melancholy and skeletal folk, which fits well with the lyrics.
The second song is not only the most famous of the artist, but also the most famous protest song of Italian music, sung in thousands of events since its release to today. "La locomotiva" tells the story of a driver who, tired of the social injustice in which he is condemned to live, decides to launch the locomotive at full speed on a train. The story ends with the defeat of the anti-hero, with the train diverted to a dead line. To this is added another theme dear to Guccini, namely the critique of the myth of progress (the locomotive is a "monster", which far from serving man subdues and alienates him). The frenzied rhythm of the folk ballad, also in this case, fits perfectly with the lyrics, with the acoustic guitar reminiscent of the rattle of the train, creating a heroic and at the same time anti-epic climax like its protagonist. The third song, "Piccola cittĂ*", evokes the atmosphere of post-war Modena, the town where the singer-songwriter resided briefly during his childhood and he always cordially detested for its narrow provincialism. Modena is also the uprooting from the native country sung in the title track, the irrecoverable loss of the primeval Eden. The arpeggios on which the song is built slip away lightly, like the harsh criticism, but devoid of resentment and regret of which the bigoted and petty Italian province is the object, rather always reaching forward with its slippery rhythm.
Side B of the album, the most interesting from a strictly musical point of view, opens with "Incontro". It is a song of near-love, full of melancholy, which tells of Guccini's brief meeting with a friend from a distant time, to which he is joined by the memory of political ideals and the disillusionment with vague youthful dreams. The vicissitudes of life have dug a deep furrow, so much so that the brief meeting ends with a fleeting greeting, and with the consideration of human incapacity in building an authentic and linear coherence in one's own life. Musically, the piece consists of a poignant ballad for piano, which grows up to the stupendous final climax.
"Canzone dei dodici mesi", folk ballad centered on the twelve months, deals with another of Guccini's literary topoi: time, which slips lightly and gets lost irremediably, overwhelming myths and youthful illusions.
"Canzone della bambina portoghese", despite being the poorest song musically, boasts a poignant text dedicated to man's inability to find answers to the questions that haunt him: like the Portuguese girl who, staring at the Atlantic, for a moment has the intuition of something that expands beyond the sea and one's own conscience, but immediately afterwards gives up, returning to its usual life.
The last song, "Il vecchio e il bambino", is perhaps the musical apex of the album, with its progress between mellotron and prog atmospheres, which accompany the story that an elderly person tells a child. Greetings at the top of a hill from which you can see an industrial city, the old man describes to the child that landscape as it was in the days of his youth: fields of wheat, meadows and flowers. But, in the end, the child mistakes the story for a fairy tale fruit of the imagination. The theme of incommunicability returns, but also the contrast between the gaze, turned to the past and its ghosts, of the elderly, and the dreamy and vital one of the child, so that the listener wonders which of the two has misunderstood the other, which of the two is to mistake the fairy tale for reality and vice versa.
On all this stands the unmistakable voice of Guccini, with his gait always poised between the brooding and the modern storyteller. A voice that is not beautiful, but full of expressiveness and sentiment, which for decades has accompanied the listening of generations of Italians. And for this we can only be grateful to him.