Thursday, December 19, 2013

Woody Guthrie - The Ultimate Collection

I have been reading Joe Klein's biography of Woody, A Life, (more on that when I've finished it) so was interested in hearing more of his music,
since my vinyl Woody selection is pretty sparse. Found this 2-CD set for a reasonable price, so picked it up. While this is filled with 50 songs, the "booklet" is simply a basic biography with no information on the songs. From reading Klein's book, I assume that the tunes are taken from different sessions, as some sound like it must be the Almanac Singers (with Pete Seeger) and there are many other (mostly unnamed, with a couple of exceptions) guests throughout. Although he did record extensively with Moses Asch - apparently hundreds of cuts - with friends popping in and out of the sessions, so conceivably these could all be culled from those, but I don't think so.

In any case, many, if not all, of his classic songs are here - originals and covers, such as "This Land is Your Land" (of course), "House of the Rising Sun", "I Ride An Old Paint", "Do Re Mi", "Talking Dust Bowl Blues", "John Henry", "Pretty Boy Floyd", "The Biggest Things Man Has Ever Done", "Jesus Christ", "When That Great Ship Went Down", "Tom Joad", "So Long It's Been Good To Know You" and tons more.

Of course, this is strictly old-time folk music mixed with bluegrass, blues and what-have-you, with plenty of politically-inspired lyrics - and sometimes the message overshadows the memorability of the song. Some simply include Woody and his guitar, some have several added instrumentalists and vocalists, which is the way that Guthrie would perform - sometimes on his own, sometimes with any number of extra friends. The Almanacs did an album of sailing songs, and several of those make appearances. It quickly becomes apparent how many songs that Woody performed have since become traditionally iconic and part of American mainstream - and funny how many of these that we would sing in grade school were originally Communist manifestos, inspiring workers to unionize and fight against unfair treatment and the bourgeoisie.

This seems like a fine starting point for those interested in learning more about Guthrie, the man who was one of Bob Dylan's biggest influences. Of course, there are many more collections, which I may have to check out when I have a chance.