On the 100th anniversary of his birth, the music of Woody Guthrie this year is seeing a number of tributes and homage paid releases, this one from Jay Farrar (Sun Volt), Will Johnson (Centro-matic, South San Gabriel), Anders Parker (Gob Iron; a project where he was partnered by Farrar) and Yim Yames (aka Jim James, My Morning Jacket) was initially started in 2006.
Farrar like Jeff Tweedy (later to form Wilco) was in Uncle Tupelo and who in 1998 and 2000 released likewise sets of work, Mermaid Avenue 1 and 2 with Billy Bragg as they too took old unpublished finished and otherwise songs and notes from Guthrie and then with his daughter, Nora Guthrie’s encouragement placed their own melodies to the late folk master’s work. Of the two projects I am more inclined to go with this one that spread over two cds draws on such subjects as reckless love, new multitudes, revolutionary mind and arguably the sweetest of them all ‘Fly High’ (where Farrar hands over the role of lead vocalist to perform harmony duties). A wonderful melodic piece it contains fabulous electric guitar, percussion and bass and glides, like it were on glass, vocally (Johnson, Yames and Farrar). From the second, bonus cd (Deluxe set only) the harmonica (something Woody used) opened ‘Around New York’ speaks of how ‘when an atom bomb hits New York it will be New York no more’. It may only last 51 seconds but this statement alone, remember Woody died in 1967 and never wrote anything during his latter life and the material here comes from the time Guthrie lived out in Los Angeles early in his career a revelation! ‘Jake Walk Blues’ that follows it is good, as Farrar gets to lie down his inimitable tones and better still is the roving piece speaking of freedom (this being something Guthrie feared from the governing bodies) ‘Whereabouts Can I Hide’.
On cranking it up, big style you have ‘I Was A Goner’, the funky ‘Dopefriend Robber’. A song that could just as easily be adopted by some current hot rapper or whoever else has the nerve to grab the nettle. So fine a job the boys have done with the song I watch with great interest the destiny of the song (and one or two more)!
Political, ‘World’s On Fire’ is a stark warning that a nuclear bomb is on its way to set the world ablaze and how man needed to change his ways and look after this world we live in (and he people in it; not just those with money either). To close we have the poignant ‘Your Smile Cured Me’ as the boys follow on from Farrar’s heart-wrenching performance of ‘Atom Dance’.
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