The LP is a concept album inspired by several apocryphal gospels, mainly the Gospel of James and the Arabic Infancy Gospel.All lyrics written by Fabrizio De André.
All songs composed and arranged by Fabrizio De André and Gian Piero Reverberi, except where noted.
Producer Roberto Dané had the original idea for the album and submitted it to Antonio Casetta of Produttori Associati, who in turn advised him to discuss the idea with De André, who was stuck in a creative rut at that time. After a year of work, the album was ready.
Narration in this album, in accordance with the apocrypha, emphasizes the human traits of traditional biblical characters (i.e. Joseph) and focuses more on some minor characters (i.e. Titus and Dumachus, the two thieves crucified along with Jesus). De André himself considered it "one of his best works, if not the best".
All tracks written by Fabrizio De André, except where noted.("Mary's Infancy")
The short opener "Laudate dominum" ("Praise the Lord") introduces to the first song, which is about Mary's childhood.("Joseph's Return")
Mary is taken away from her mother at the age of 3 and lives a segregated existence in a temple until, at age 12, she is banished by the priests when "her virginity is tinged with red", making her unpure. Afterwards, a search is organized among the unwed to find a man for the child to marry, regardless of her will, effectively "making a lottery out of a virgin's body".
The chosen man is Joseph, an old carpenter, who is saddened by the decision, deeming that Mary has been given in marriage to "a too-old heart that is already resting".
Nevertheless, the carpenter takes his newly-wed bride to his home, and subsequently leaves to attend works outside of Judea.
Eight years after his departure, Joseph is shown is on his way back home on a donkey, crossing the desert just as the first stars appear in the sunset sky. As he draws closer to Jerusalem, he takes out a wooden doll he made for Mary, thinking how she missed playing and toys in her early childhood. Upon his arrival, he is greeted by a crying Mary, who he sees is pregnant with a child. As explanation, she tells her husband about a strange dream she had had.("Mary's Dream")
The scene of Mary's story takes place in the temple, where she used to be visited by an angel in her dreams, who taught her new prayers. One night, he "turned her arms into wings", and took her with him to a place far away, where he starts speaking to her. Meanwhile, the voices of the priests in the temple start to carry Mary away from the dream and, as she sees the angel "turn into a comet", she is awakened by the noises coming from the streets. Though confused, the echo of the angel's words is still lingering in her mind: "They will call him the Son of God". She then realizes that she has become pregnant.("Hail Mary")
As her story ends, she starts crying again, and Joseph sympathetically caresses her forehead.
The song represents Mary's transition into womanhood as she becomes a mother, a mix of both "joy and sorrow, in the season that lightens the visage".("Mary in the Carpenter's Workshop")
It is also a tribute to motherhood, to those who are "women for a day and then mothers forever".
From the joyful atmosphere of the previous song, the story is now taken in a carpenter's workshop, where Mary asks him what he is working on, and if he is making crutches for the survivors of war. He replies that he is actually making three crosses, "two for those who deserted to sack, the biggest one for the one who taught to desert war".("Way of the Cross")
When Mary asks him who is going to be upon the crosses, he says that the crosses "will see the tears of Titus and Dumachus" and "the biggest one will embrace your son".
The song describes reactions of the people watching Jesus as he carries the cross towards the Calvary.("Three Mothers")
The first ones, the fathers of the children killed by Herod, insult him and mock him, saying how they would rather kill him themselves. His disciples follow him silently, overwhelmed by terror, fearing that exposing themselves would lead to the same fate. The priests who condemned him are now satisfied, consider him "dead enough" to be sure that he's indeed human. Lastly, the two thieves are described as having "a place of honor" but, unlike the priests, not pleased in any way by Jesus' pain. In the end, the only ones left under the crosses are the mothers of the three condemned.
As the three condemned stand crucified, their respective mothers stand under the crosses to comfort them.("Titus' Testament")
The two women tell Mary that's she has no reason to cry so much, since she knows that her son will "return to life on the third day", while theirs will never return. The heart-rending song ends with Mary's words: "Had you not been the son of God, I'd still have you as my son".
Sardinian singer Elena Ledda recorded a cover of the song with Sardinian lyrics, titled "Sas tres mamas", for the 1995 tribute album Canti randagi.
Probably the album's most well-known song, it revolves entirely around Titus, one of the thieves. While on the cross, he explains the Ten Commandments from his point of view, saying that even though he didn't respect any of them, he never felt any sorrow or guilt, because the events of life, which the Commandments don't take into account, drove him to do it.("Praise the Man")
Then, before dying, he tells his mother how, through the sorrow for the fate of "this dying man", he has learned love.
The last song has a title antithetical to that of the opener and is a reprise of its theme.
A choir who represents the poor tells about how Jesus is to be praised not as a God, but as a son of man, therefore a brother of mankind.
The album was heavily criticized at the time of its release due to its themes. During the students' protests period, many regarded it as conservative, anachronistic and generally uncompatible with the idea of social change promoted by the protests. When De André was asked why he would make an album about Jesus Christ at a time like that, he answered that "Jesus is the greatest revolutionary of all history". He also explained that the album is "an allegory, a comparison between the best and most reasonable principles of the protest movement and the spiritually wider ones of a man, born 1968 years before, who got himself nailed to a cross in the name of universal brotherhood and egalitarianism, against any abuse of power".
In 2010, Italian progressive rock group Premiata Forneria Marconi released a remake of the album, titled A.D. 2010 - La buona novella, featuring rearrangements of De André's songs with the addition of some original instrumental sections.Fabrizio De André - Guitars, Vocals
Franco Mussida - Guitars
Andrea Sacchi - Guitars
Franz Di Cioccio - Drums
Giorgio Piazza - Bass
Flavio Premoli - Organ
Mauro Pagani - Flute