Woody Guthrie At 100! Live At The Kennedy Center by Various Artists

July 31, 2013

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I can’t help but think that if Woody Guthrie had only written one song, “This Land Is Your Land,” he still would have been remembered as a brilliant musician. His career extends far beyond just that one composition, as he has achieved the status of one of America’s poet laureates of the 20th century.

Woody Guthrie would have turned 100 in 2012, so last October 14, artists such as Judy Collins, Rosanne Cash, Jackson Browne, Donovan, John Mellencamp, Lucinda Williams, Tom Morello, and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott gathered at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. to celebrate his life and music. Now, a CD/DVD has been released to commemorate this centennial concert. PBS presented some of the concert as a part of a tribute to Guthrie, but the Woody Guthrie At 100! Live At The Kennedy Center package contains eight performances not shown on the television special, and adds some archival bonus footage.

It is always interesting to hear today’s musicians interpret Guthrie’s words and music. His songs have a timeless quality that allow an artist leeway in interpreting the stories. Judy Collins (“Pastures of Plenty”), Donovan (“Riding in My Car (Car Song)”), John Mellencamp (“Do Re Me”), Sweet Honey In The Rock (“I’ve Got to Know”), and Rosanne Cash (“I Ain’t Got No Time” and “Pretty Boy Floyd”) all provide modernized versions of his music while paying tribute to the originals. Various backing instruments and musicians, plus vocal harmonies and even some a cappella vocals update his folk classics.

During the last 20 years Nora Guthrie has invited some musicians to compose music to Woody Guthrie’s unpublished lyrics. Lucinda Williams (“House of Earth”) and Joel Rafael (“Ramblin’ Reckless Hobo”) were present to perform their newly created songs on which they now share writing credit with Guthrie. Rafael channels Bob Dylan in approach, while Williams brings country passion to her performance.

The CD and DVD contain basically the same song list, although the DVD contains two spoken word performances by actor Jeff Daniels. The DVD has very good clarity and sound and manages to present the flow of the concert well.

The bonus material is short but sweet. Especially so is Woody singing “Green Back Dollar,” “John Henry,” and “Ranger’s Command.” It allows one to travel back in time to an America that is long gone but which provided the heart and soul for his music. The only issue ts the shortness of the clips. Still, they are a fine example of Guthrie’s style.

The final two tracks were ensemble performances of “This Train Is Bound for Glory” and “This Land Is Your Land.” They remain two of the more memorable songs in U.S. history and are prime examples of Guthrie’s ability to paint pictures with his lyrics. With Woody Guthrie; it always comes back to the words.

Woody Guthrie died October 3, 1967, at the age of 55, from Huntington’s disease. Woody Guthrie At 100! Live At The Kennedy Center is a nice celebration as it connects his music and life to the present and looks ahead to the future.


The City Of New Orleans 45 by Arlo Guthrie

June 20, 2012

When your father was music legend Woody Guthrie, you have quite a legacy to live up too.

Arlo Guthrie exploded upon the music scene with his performnces at The Newport Folk Festival and Woodstock during the late 1960s and his opus, “Alice’s Restaurant.” He has continued to perform and record down to the present day.

He has only placed two songs on the BILLBOARD MAGAZINE Pop Singles Chart. The first was a very short version of the 18 minute “Alice’s Restaurant,” which only reached number 97 during its two weeks on the chart.

His only pop hit was the Steve Goodman song, “The City Of New Orleans.” Released as a single during the early summer of 1972, it peaked at number 18 during its 16 weeks on the chart.


The Best Of Arlo Guthrie by Arlo Guthrie

February 13, 2010

Every now and then I reach into the old music collection and grab something off the shelf which I have not visited in awhile. A couple of days ago this lead me to Arlo Guthrie who was a constant musical companion during my late teenage years.

The son of American folk music legend Woody Guthrie, Arlo is now over 25 albums into his own career which stretches back over four decades. While he has remained active both in the studio and in concert halls, he has faded into the background and much of his material is unknown to the present generation of music fans.

During the late sixties, though, he was an important link in the group of folk artists who were active in the anti-Vietnam War protest movement. He performed at Woodstock and remains a part of that generation’s legacy. He has held true to his ideals and continues to stay active for a variety of social causes.

The Best Of Arlo Guthrie was released in 1977 and is an excellent presentation of his best material from the most commercially successful period of his career.

If you want to understand the music of Arlo Guthrie and get a good picture of the sixties protest movement, “Alice’s Restaurant Massacree” is the place to start. It clocks in at over eighteen minutes and is presented as a talking-blues folk tune. Guthrie incorporates his own experiences with his local draft board which still resonate and amuse today. If you don’t know about the Group W bench you have missed a slice of the sixties. It may not be a song you will want to play over and over again but it remains his best-known song and is essential listening for anyone even mildly interested in folk music.

“Coming Into Los Angeles” was performed at Woodstock and perfectly fit the gathered hippie generation at that event. His simple and breezy interpretation of Steve Goodman’s “City Of New Orleans” became his only top twenty hit. “Motorcycle Song” is another amusing and in many ways nonsensical song which combines his views about pickles with his love of motorcycles.

The first decade of his career produced a number of strong tracks and I lament the fact that tunes such as “Washington County” and “Hobo’s Lament” were not included but what is here is universally excellent.

Arlo Guthrie is now an elder statesman of the American folk movement. The Best Of Arlo Guthrie is not only a nice introduction to his music but also to an important period of American history.