Review : Woody Guthrie - My Dusty Road
RollingstoneThere are umpteen collections of the music of legendary folkie storyteller, agitator and Dylan role model Woody Guthrie, and almost all of them sound like they were recorded in a refrigerator box. But this one qualifies as genuine news. The back story is a crate-digger's wet dream: cardboard drums filled with pristine 78-rpm metal masters, given up for lost long ago, were found in the basement storage bin of a Brooklyn apartment belonging to an Italian lady who inherited them from the daughter-in-law of a business partner of Folkways Records guru Moses Asch.
The 54 songs on My Dusty Road, most of them familiar, are part of roughly 250 tracks — many featuring second guitarist Cisco Houston and harmonica man Sonny Terry — recorded over a six-day marathon in New York in 1944, during the thick of World War II. The sound quality is astonishing. On songs such as "This Land Is Your Land," "Stackolee" and "Pretty Boy Floyd," fingerpicked melodic fills emerge from surface noise, vocals step up to shake your hand. It's the sound of Guthrie as a man, not a ghost. In addition to extravagant packaging (four discs and a couple of archival postcard repros in a hobo-style cardboard valise), there are a half-dozen unreleased tracks. The most impressive are "Tear the Fascists Down," a no-shit bit of wartime cheerleading, and "Bad Repetation" [sic], a nudge-winker about romantic problems — one of the occupational hazards for a trouble-courting troubadour never afraid to sing exactly what was on his mind....full text
GuardianThis is a remarkable and historic set of recordings with an equally remarkable history. Woody Guthrie is now rightly acknowledged as one of the greatest songwriters and folk singers in American history, and a massive influence on Dylan and Springsteen. But in April 1944, he was rather less well known. He and his friend Cisco Houston were in New York, taking a brief break from their wartime voyages with the merchant marine, when they met up with the great harmonica player Sonny Terry, then living on social security, to record songs for the Stinson label. When Stinson was later dissolved, the metal masters of the 250 tracks they had recorded were divided between two partners. But half of them disappeared, until they were unearthed in a dusty Brooklyn basement, and painstakingly converted into digital sound. The result is astonishing: now, more than 40 years on, Guthrie and his friends can be heard as never before. The clarity is extraordinary, and so are the intimacy, variety and power of Guthrie's singing and playing, switching from stirring, passionate union recruiting songs and bleak, angry ballads such as the chilling Hangknot, Slipknot, through to patriotic wartime anthems such as Tear the Fascists Down, folk songs and rousing instrumental pieces. There are old favourites such as This Land Is Your Land (which includes that controversial verse about ignoring trespassing signs, which most cover versions have chosen to leave out), previously unheard songs such as the witty Bad Reputation, and instrumental work-outs including Train Breakdown, which shows off Guthrie's fine guitar work and Terry's exhilarating harmonica playing. Magnificent....full text
ThephoenixThe agit-pop songwriter of "This Land Is Your Land," "Going Down the Road," "Pretty Boy Floyd," "Philadelphia Lawyer," and a passel of other bedrock American folk classics carried a business card that identified him as "Woody, Th' Dustiest of the Dustbowlers." This 54-song collection blows some of that dust off Guthrie's legacy through a surprising Boston connection. The recordings were made from superbly preserved 1940s metal masters — the plates from which vinyl records were pressed — that had been bequeathed to a relative of Boston rock-band manager Michael Creamer, who took them to locally based bastion of folk Rounder Records.
What's cool about this box of recordings originally made for the Stinson label is the clarity of the performances. They're far better than earlier LP and CD incarnations, which suffered from poor mastering, vinyl transfers, the low quality of domestic vinyl during World War II, or any combination of the above. The blueprint for the '60s folk revival lies here in the clear unveiling of Guthrie's dry bark and tough vanilla picking, and in his tales of open spaces ("Chisholm Trail") and social conflict ("Tear the Fascists Down" and plenty more).
There are two previously unreleased tunes: "Sonny's Flight" is a showcase for his pal bluesman Sonny Terry's frenetic, eloquent harmonica; "Bad Repetation" [sic] is a comic tale he spins in a corn shucker's drawl. There are also newly unearthed — maybe the correct term is "unbasemented" — versions of "Guitar Rag," "Brown's Ferry Blues," "Tear the Fascists Down," and "You Can Hear My Whistle Blow." Paired with an artful book that spins the tale of these sides and their place in Woody's world by Guthrie historian Ed Cray and Rounder co-founder Bill Nowlin, these four CDs are a superb introduction to an artist whose influence extends to Dylan, Springsteen, and, indeed, nearly all American music that followed on his dusty heels....full text
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