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The Songs of Woody Guthrie

by: New Multitudes

Album Artwork

(Rounder Records) 

The New Multitudes is a group composed of Jay Farrar, Anders Parker, Will Johnson and Yim Yames (My Morning Jacket's Jim James). This is a debut album of Woody Guthrie lyrics set to new music for a centennial tribute to Guthrie who died in 1967. Farrar worked with the words of Jack Kerouac's Big Sur for an album a few years ago. He's tapping into a vein of American literature, as well as music... 

Jay Farrar recently said this about these unearthed Guthrie lyrics: "I found that working with Woody's lyrics allowed the songwriting process to be less self-concious. Often when I'm writing my own lyrics I have to stop and think, 'What am I trying to say?' But with these lyrics it was total inspiration. It was all right on the page'." 

The album opens with Farrar singing "Hoping Machine". These lyrics originated from one of Guthrie's journal entries. Anders Parker sings the light and uplifting "Fly High"--sheer poetry of dreams linger in the memory on this one... 

Yim Yames chimes in on "My Revolutionary Mind" with a sparse clarity. Not much fat to be trimmed from this collection. Will Johnson sings "VD City", the most gritty and number so far, where A Drive By Truckers fuzztone and Bob Dylan harmonica echo through portions of this tune. "Old L.A" reminds me of vintage R.E.M. "Talking Empty Bed Blues" cuts to the chase of Guthrie's tragic end. Get a load of that... 

"Chorine (My Sheba Queen)" slips out of the speakers like a smoke with no origin...where everything exists as a vapor...or a memory. "Careless Reckless Love" resonates like a sad country song where the hero really does lose in the end. The lyrics reveal "You can take away the silver/You can take away the gold/But you can't take away my soul..."

"Angel's Blues" really evokes a classic lowdown rock & roll sound with lyrics that sound right if you're down on your knees...or wearing sevens on the sleeve with an ace in the hole reeking of soulful danger: "Two girls just gave me a fountain pen/I think that's mighty nice/Reminds me of the joke I heard... 

"I like the way she looks, walks, talks, works and lays...I got in trouble over her/Now I'm layin' out days...", but the plot thickens..."I woke up every morning with my woman in my arms/A good girl built like a government mule/I wasn't doin no harm...You seem to know me everywhere I land/I got four little angels in the promised land." Just when you think the storyteller is dealt a broken heart you hear the venemous lines: "I like to have you around me/To wake me every me up everyday/But when my mainline comes back home/I wonder what you'll say/I got a reputation from coast to coast/I don't have to lie/I don't have to lighten no boast."

The mantra of "No Fear" speaks for itself. The final number, the title track, bookends this reverential release with a respectful farewell and rediscovery. This stands as one of the best sequence and songs this year. This album is bound for glory... 

James Calemine





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