Francesco Guccini's seminal debut album makes its author's intentions clear from its very title: to create a modern brand of Italian protest/folk music in the vein of Bob Dylan or Phil Ochs. Indeed, the sound of this album faithfully re-creates that of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan or All the News That's Fit to Sing: a base made of two acoustic guitars, one strummed and the other playing licks or arpeggios, ubiquitous harmonica flourishes, and the occasional tambourine. As with most folk songwriters, Guccini's originality and relevance are to be found in his distinctive voice (untrained and nasal yet immediately compelling, made all the more endearing by a thick Emilia-Romagna accent) and, above all, in his lyrics. These ten songs inaugurate the two fields that Guccini would cultivate throughout his entire career: somber, moving tales about failure and tragedy; and riotous satirical portraits of Italian society. Most impressive of all is his ability to switch effortlessly among subjects, whether personal, fictional, or historical, as perfectly illustrated in the three songs in this album dedicated to innocent victims of circumstance: "In Morte de S.F.," about a friend killed in a car crash; "La Ballata degli Annegati," a compassionate farewell to suicides; and "Auschwitz," a first-person narrative of a child murdered in the German concentration camp. Other highlights include "Venerdì Santo," a snapshot of life and love in the boredom of the provinces that manages to sound both tender and desolate, and "Talkin' Milano," a hilarious self-deprecating parody about the incongruence of posing as a folksinger in Italy, made in true-to-form talking blues style, trading verses with an American friend, half in Italian and half in English. The album closes with the extraordinary suite "Il Sociale e l'Antisociale," a back-to-back antithetical portrait of 1960s Italian youth, showcasing Guccini's talent for depicting both sides of the coin with verve, righteous anger, and intelligence and irony to spare. Guccini would go on to a long and fruitful career, but all of the elements that would make him one of Italy's most popular and admired singer/songwriters are already in glorious evidence in Folk Beat No. 1.
AllMusic Review by Mariano Prunes