Thursday, July 14, 2011

Woody's Roots - Woody Guthrie

Woody's Roots
Woody Guthrie
Rounder 11661-1164-1

A post for Woody Guthrie in honor of his 99th birthday.  I'm not a big folk fan, when it comes to Guthries I'm more likely to put on Arlo than Woody.  But among the old school folkies, Guthrie is my favorite.  Like a lot of people I first encountered Guthrie in music class in grade school via "This Land Is Your Land."  As a kid I thought the song must be over a hundred years old like "Oh Susanna" or "The Star-Spangled Banner" and most of the other songs we sang in class.  Little did I know that the author had just died a few years earlier.  In high school I got into Bob Dylan and from Dylan I learned about Guthrie.  Thanks Bob.  It took me awhile but I finally came to appreciate Guthrie's great contribution to American music.  I have an excellent CD comp of Guthrie's recordings, but frankly it is just too big.  I rarely have a hankering for that much Woody.  Besides I think he just sounds better on vinyl.  When I feel like some Guthrie, I usually reach for this record even though most of it isn't actually written by him.  It is part of a 4 record series entitled "My Dusty Road" put out by Rounder from the celebrated Asch recordings that were rediscovered a while back.  The Asch recordings were made in New York City in 1944 and 1945 and feature Guthrie alone as well as numerous recordings where he is accompanied by Cisco Houston which are the ones I find particularly appealing.  It was also issued in an elaborate box set on CD.  Each of the 4 records has a theme, this one is traditional music.  If you are into traditional folk music you've probably heard lots of these songs before, "John Henry," "Stackolee" and "Gypsy Davy" have been recorded many times but Guthrie's versions are about as good as any.  There are also some nice versions of old timey songs like "Put My Little Shoes Away" (with harmonica accompaniment by Sonny Terry), "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone," "What Did The Deep Sea Say," the Carter Family's "Little Darling Pal of Mine" and "A Picture From Life's Other Side" which I know from Hank Williams' version.  A lot of these tunes have Guthrie copyrights even though I know he didn't write them, like "Buffalo Skinners" and "Stewball," an English variant of which appears on the Steeleye Span album "Ten Man Mop."  I believe that "Poor Boy" really is one of his compositions and it is first rate.   My favorite songs are "Hard Ain't It Hard" and another Carter Family song "Worried Man Blues" which are essential Guthrie recordings.  They feel like America to me.  This is a wonderful record, an artifact of authentic and historic music, a piece of our culture that perhaps no longer exists, yet remains a part of what we are.  Recommended for fans of the Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers. 

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